10 Tips for Dealing With Alzheimer’s During the Holidays

While many love the holiday season, there's no doubt that it can be overwhelming. That stress increases if you're a caretaker for an Alzheimer's patient, as additional concerns need to be taken into account. However, there are ways to evade common obstacles while still including patients in the festivities. Here are ten tips for doing so.

Portrait of grandmother and daughter at christmas

1. Be prepared

As the Alzheimer's Association states, those who have not thought ahead are those who will probably struggle when celebration time comes. It's best to stick to the patient's normal schedule as closely as possible, so have a chat with your family beforehand, letting them know what you do on a regular basis, what the patient needs, and where you could use some help. Be realistic about what you can or can't do!

2. Ensure everyone is in the know.

If relatives who live far away are coming to visit, it's important to debrief them about the patient's behaviors and symptoms. This gives them a “heads up” so they know what to expect and know how to best communicate with the patient. For those whose loved ones are in later stages of the disease, it can also ease some of the pain associated with Mom/Dad/Aunt Millie/Uncle Todd not recognizing them. If this is the case for your family, assure relatives it's nothing personal. It's the disease that has caused them to forget.

3. Maintain tradition

Jewish family lighting Chanukah menorah

As social worker and geriatric care manager Nataly Rubinstein advises, “Realize that celebrating…will not be like old times. Alzheimer's and dementia will dramatically and permanently change aspects of [a person] and [their] behavior.” However, this does not mean you should let go of beloved holiday traditions. Since long-term memory tends to prevail after short-term memories fade, traditions are a great way to connect with and comfort your loved one, especially if they involve music. Just keep your expectations realistic and your “to-do” list short, recognizing that things may be different this year.

4. Involve the patient in preparations

Let them pick out gifts, decorate cookies, wrap boxes, hang ornaments on the tree, pray a blessing over the meal…whatever you believe your loved one could do and would enjoy doing. This will make them feel like they are part of the festivities. Mayo Clinic advises that you focus on the process instead of the outcome. So don't worry if the Christmas tree cookies are warped or the ornaments have been delegated to a single spot on the tree.

5. Ensure the environment is safe

Due to declining cognitive abilities, a person with Alzheimer's may have various safety concerns. To them, artificial foods might look real, blinking lights could be confusing, and dark rugs may look like holes in the ground. Avoid decorations that could pose a risk. Keep tabs on them, as well, to ensure they remain comfortable and don't try anything that could put themselves at risk, like wandering off.

6. Get appropriate gifts (and ensure others do the same)

gifts with grandpa_1000x523

Those who aren't familiar with Alzheimer's may give gifts that are inappropriate at best, dangerous at worst. Give relatives gift suggestions. Good ideas include photo albums, CDs, medical ID bracelets, warm clothes, and comfy blankets. Bad ideas include anything dangerous, as well as anything that requires complex thinking, like mind puzzles.

7. Celebrate at the best time for the patient

Some with Alzheimer's may be better or worse at certain times of the day. For example, confusion may set in at evening. Try to plan celebrations for when they'll be at their optimal cognitive ability. If night is a bad time for your loved one, a brunch, lunch, or even breakfast might be a great alternative to the traditional turkey dinner. Celebrating earlier in the day offers an added bonus: your loved one may not be as prone to sleepiness.

8. Keep it calm

Those with Alzheimer's may be more comfortable in a calm, low-key environment. If possible, make gatherings relatively small and relaxed. Not only will it take stress off the patient, but it'll also take stress off you!

9. Keep the celebration where they are

To reduce anxiety, consider hosting the celebration where your loved one lives, especially if they are in a care facility. Those in such a situation may have events already scheduled out for them. Don't be afraid to contact the facility and ask if you can join in!

10. Don't forget about yourself!

Woman in SPA
If you are a caregiver, you do amazing work throughout the year and deserve an opportunity to relax. Don't be afraid to ask others for help with either caregiving or other holiday-related tasks. And if others ask you what you want as a gift and you don't have anything specific in mind, think about asking for something that will give you a break, like a spa voucher or a temporary cleaning service.

Did we miss anything? What are your tips for getting through the holidays?

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A. Stout is a Whovian, Potterhead, study abroad alumna, and animal lover. A native to West Michigan, she dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world.