Helping Your Loved Ones With Alzheimer’s Or Dementia Enjoy The Holiday Season

The holidays are a special time for families to gather and celebrate. As we head into this holiday season, these usually happy occasions can often times challenging for families with aging loved ones.  In particular, the holiday season can cause mixed feelings for those who have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. It’s common to experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be.  And feeling pressure to keep up family traditions, despite the demands caregiving places on your time and energy, can be difficult to navigate.

Older adults with mobility issues, or conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s can start to feel isolated during the holiday season when everyone is getting together for celebrations and family visits. The holidays can disrupt familiar routines, or may require difficult travel, which can sometimes make an aging individual feel like a burden.

However, by adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you can still find meaning and joy for you and your family throughout the holidays. By making sure that they feel included in some capacity during this season of celebration, you and your family make the holidays joyous for everyone:

Celebrating The Holidays With Your Loved Ones Living With Alzheimer’s Or Dementia:

If your family traditions involved travel or other things that would be too strenuous for your aging loved one, it might be a good idea to discuss with your family the possibility of creating new traditions.  There are also some other simple things you can do to ensure a holiday season that will include you all:

  • “Remember Together”  

    It often times is not the holiday itself that causes feelings of depression, but rather the fact that the holidays brings up memories of earlier or happier times. Activities such as watching home movies together or looking through old pictures as a group can be a nice way to remember those times as a family to help alleviate feelings of loneliness in an aging loved one.

  • Planning Ahead

    It sounds simple, but just by making sure you plan ahead to ensure that your loved one will not be spending the holidays alone. you can make the holidays happier for everyone.  If your loved one lives in an assisted living community, or if they live at home, make sure to see when it is best to plan to spend special time together.


Keeping It Simple While At Home:

If your loved one who has Alzheimer’s will spend time at home:

  • Simplify Your Decorations: Large decorative displays or blinking lights can cause distraction and disorientation. Avoid lighted candles and other safety hazards, as well as decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats, and breakable, glass items.

  • Maintaining Simple Traditions By Doing Things Together:  For example, your loved one might be able to participate in baking by stirring batter or rolling dough. Or perhaps you might find it meaningful to open holiday cards and read them together. Concentrate on the doing things together, rather than the result.

  • Toning Down Your Holiday Gatherings:  Holiday get-togethers often include over-stimulation, loud noise and music.  For a person who has Alzheimer’s, a calm and quiet environment usually is best. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible and provide your loved one a place to rest during family gatherings.

Practical Ideas When Away From Home:

If your loved one lives in an assisted living, nursing home or other facility:

  • Celebrate At The Facility, Which Is The Most Familiar Setting For Your Loved One:  For many people who have Alzheimer’s, even a visit home can cause anxiety, due to unfamiliarity of the situation. To avoid disruption, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility.  Most facilities have holiday activities planned for the residents which you can include you and your family in.

  • Minimize The Amount Of Visitors Per Day:  Arrange for just a few family members to visit on varying days. Even if your loved one isn’t sure who’s who, just a few familiar faces at a time are likely to be welcome. A large group might be just too overwhelming.

  • Visit Your Loved One At Scheduled Times That Is Their “Best Time” Of Day:   Consult with the facility and your loved ones care providers to see what time of day they are most receptive to having visits.  “Sundowning” refers to a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night, so often times visiting early in the day is best.  By respecting your loved one’s daily routine, you can help prevent triggering confusion or anxiety.

  • Limit Visits With Children To Shorter, Specific Periods Of Time:  The holidays is magical for children, but often times in small spaces, children’s excitement can be overwhelming. Make sure to select a time of day when both children and your loved ones at their best.  Depending on the age of the children, incorporate their visit with an organized, structured activity.

Simple Tips For You And Your Loved Ones At Holiday Time

  1. Look At Photo Albums Together:  Looking at pictures is a great way to spend time with both the young and old. The stories shared are true treasures.

  2. Play Familiar Board Games:  Board games exercise the mind while entertaining. Today, there are many games that are designed for especially for aging adults.

  3. If Allowed, Bring Your Pet To Visit: If you have a calm, loving animal that is good with people, you may want to consider bringing it with you for a visit. Pet therapy is being incorporated into many assisted living and nursing home communities across the world.

  4. Enjoy Their Favorite Music, Movies Or TV Programs Together:  Playing familiar music has the capability to calm, soothe, and even trigger memories for many dementia patients. While it may not seem like a way to spend holiday time together, for those with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, it is the companionship and shared time are what’s important.

  5. Make A Holiday Craft Together: Be sure to take into consideration the physical and mental capabilities of your loved one when selecting a craft activity, or ask for the advice or your loved one’s facility providers who may have some wonderful suggestions.

  6. Take A Walk Together: If weather permits, go outside and breathe in some fresh air. Sometimes a little change of scenery is amazing “medicine” for your loved ones.  If you cannot go outside, then take time to stroll around inside and just talk, just to trigger memories associated with specific rooms or furniture.

So as you can see, making your loved ones feel included in the holidays can be done in a variety of ways. Whether you are able to visit with your whole family, only drop in for a short time, just ensure that they are not spending the holidays alone. 

The most important thing is for them to know that you are thinking of them this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

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