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Celebrating the holidays with a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia

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By: Dr. Mary Guerriero Austrom 

Holiday celebrations can be a comforting link with the past for people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and celebrating together can be a treasured experience for families and friends. But the changes in routine, busy schedules, and many visitors may also be stressful for a person with AD, and for caregivers. If you are celebrating the holidays with a loved one with AD, here are some tips for making the holidays an enjoyable experience for everyone:

1. Maintain routines as much as possible, and be sure to take time to rest—for yourself and the person with AD.

2. Plan ahead if attending religious services:

  • Think about attending an early service as they are less crowded
  • Sit in an aisle seat near the back so you can exit easily if necessary
  • Watch services on television

3. Involve the person with AD in holiday preparations and activities as they are able. Even though they may not be able to participate as much as they once did, they can still enjoy taking part in holiday traditions:

  • Baking and cooking can bring back special memories
  • Decorating the house with favorite treasures
  • Looking at old photos or home movies of past holidays can bring back shared memories

4. Show the person with AD pictures of visitors before they visit and talk about what to expect. Reminisce about the visitor and their relationship with you.

5. Tell visitors about what they can expect when they visit, especially if they haven’t seen the person in a while and may not be prepared for any behavior and/ or personality changes. Suggest the best times to visit and limit both the number of visitors at a time and the length of the visits.

6. Plan a family brunch or lunch with smaller groups of people at a time as large family meals can be overwhelming.

  • Keep the meal very simple
  • Pitch-ins reduce work for everyone
  • Be flexible, if the person with AD is having a bad day, reschedule

7. Keep the environment safe:

  • Avoid clutter in the hallways and walking areas
  • Keep extension cords out of the way or secured to avoid falls
  • Never leave candles unattended

8. Take time to do the holiday activities you enjoy, even if the person with AD cannot go to an event that you want to attend. Ask family members or friends to stay with them so you can go.

9. Holidays activities should be joyful. If it doesn’t bring you joy, do not do it!

Visit the Alzheimer’s expertise hub and the NIH for more information.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Author

Em Collins

Communications Coordinator

Having joined IU School of Medicine in 2016, Em uses a poetry and theatre background to help bridge the academic world with the creative. A graduate of University of Evansville, he works with faculty and academic staff to formulate unique, marketing idea...