The holiday season can cause mixed feelings for a family affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
While typically a time for celebration, families may experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be. For caregivers, the holidays may create added work. You’ll also have to consider the needs of the person with dementia during holiday decorating and gatherings.
By adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you may find meaningful ways to celebrate holidays.
Creating a safe and calm space
To create an appropriate environment during the holidays for the person with dementia:
- Tone down decorations. Avoid blinking lights or large decorative displays that can cause confusion. Avoid decorations that cause clutter or require you to rearrange a familiar room.
- Avoid safety hazards. Substitute electric candles for burning candles. If you light candles, don’t leave them unattended. Avoid fragile decorations or decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats, such as artificial fruits. If you have a tree, secure it to a wall.
- Play favorite music. Familiar or favorite holiday music may be enjoyable. Adjust the volume to be relaxing and not distressing.
Adapting holiday activities
To help the person with dementia enjoy the holidays:
- Prepare together. Mix batter, decorate cookies, open holiday cards or make simple decorations. Focus on the task rather than the outcome.
- Host a small gathering. Aim to keep celebrations quiet and relaxed.
- Avoid disruptions. Plan a gathering at the best time of day for the person with dementia. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible.
- Provide a quiet place. If you are having guests over, provide a quiet place for the person with dementia to have time alone or to visit with one person at a time.
- Plan meaningful activities. You might read a favorite holiday story, look at photo albums, watch a favorite holiday movie or sing songs.
- Keep outings brief. If you’ll be attending a holiday gathering, plan to be brief or be prepared to leave early if necessary. Make sure there is a place to rest or take a break.
Celebrating at a care facility
If your family member lives in a nursing home or other care facility, try these ideas:
- Celebrate in the most familiar setting. Because a change in environment can cause distress, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility. You might participate in holiday activities planned for the residents.
- Minimize visitor traffic. Arrange for a few family members to drop in on different days. A large group may be overwhelming.
Preparing holiday visitors
To help visitors prepare for holiday time with a person with dementia:
- Provide an update. Let guests know ahead of time about any changes in behavior or memory since their last visit. Providing a recent photo can help people prepare for changes in appearance.
- Offer communication tips. Suggest ways for guests to listen patiently, such as not criticizing repeated comments, not correcting errors and not interrupting.
- Suggest activities. Tell guests ahead of time what activities you have planned or suggest something they might bring, such as a photo album.
Taking care of yourself
Self-care is crucial for caregivers during the holidays. To make the season enjoyable:
- Pick and choose. Focus on the holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you. Remember that you can’t do it all.
- Manage others’ expectations. Set realistic expectations for what you can contribute to family holiday celebrations.
- Delegate. Let family and friends help with cleaning, addressing cards and shopping for gifts.
- Make time for yourself. Ask a family member or friend to give you a break so that you can enjoy a holiday outing without caregiving responsibilities.
Trusting your instincts
Simplifying celebrations, planning ahead and setting boundaries can help you minimize stress and create a pleasant holiday experience for you and the person with dementia.