Celebrating the Holidays When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s Disease

The bright lights and big crowds make the holidays fun and exciting for many of us. But the season can present special challenges if you are a family caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of cognitive impairment. A little planning can make the season less stressful for everyone in this situation. Geriatrics physician Dr. Cindy Carlsson, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, explained that Alzheimer’s patients may feel a sense of loss during the holidays, while caregivers can become frantic trying to keep up with holiday traditions and caring for their loved ones at the same time.

Carlsson shared advice for making the holidays more enjoyable for everyone. Here are four easy suggestions as you plan this year’s holiday time with your friend or loved one:

Follow a routine. Sticking to a routine can reduce the stress on the person with dementia, as well as his or her caregiver and family. “Holidays are anything but routine, yet a routine is the best way to be kind to the patient,” Carlsson said. “Make sure the day is as normal as possible by providing meals at the same time they usually are.”

Help your loved one remember. People with Alzheimer’s can become frustrated when someone tries to challenge their memories with questions like, “Do you remember me?” and “Do you remember what we did last summer?” Advised Carlsson, “Regardless of how close you are to the person, introduce yourself. You could also update them on your activities so that they don’t have to ask questions.” Carlsson said reminiscent therapy can be effective. She suggests going through old family photos with your loved one. In addition, you might even ask guests to wear name tags.

Involve your loved one in activities. “We recommend that you involve an Alzheimer’s patient with straightforward activities like wrapping gifts, folding napkins or simple crafts,” said Carlsson. Activities can provide mental and physical stimulation.

Take care of the caregiver. The best gift for a caregiver can be the gift of time and respite. The typical stress of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can become even more overwhelming during the holidays. Carlsson said you can help a caregiver by offering to give them some time off. Families can prepare a plan to share the caregiving. For caregivers who will be hosting the holiday get-together, Carlsson suggests smaller gatherings or even a potluck.

Source: University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.