Celebrating the Holidays When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

by Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter

The holiday season is a time when families join together to make memories and reminisce. When a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, a little extra planning can help make holiday celebrations enjoyable for everyone.

Adjust Expectations
• Discuss holiday celebrations with relatives and close friends. Call a face-to-face meeting or arrange for a long distance telephone conference call to discuss major holiday celebrations. Make sure that family members understand the situation and have realistic expectations.

• Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. No one can expect you to maintain every holiday tradition or event. If you’ve always invited 15-20 people to your home, consider inviting five for a simple meal.

Involve the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease
• Throughout all stages of preparation, involve the person with Alzheimer’s in safe, manageable activities. This can help to prepare the person for the holiday and give you an opportunity to spend quality time together. You may want to begin slowly by asking the person to help you prepare food, wrap packages, hang decorations or set the table. (Avoid using candies, artificial fruits/vegetables, or other edibles as decorations. Blinking lights may confuse the person.).

• Maintain the person’s normal routine so that holiday preparations don’t become disruptive or confusing. Remember: Taking on too many tasks at one time can wear on you and the impaired person.

• Build on past traditions and memories. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs, for example. But also experiment with new holiday traditions, such as renting seasonal videos that the less active person may enjoy.

Adapt Gift-giving
• Encourage useful gifts. Among the practical useful gifts for people with this illness are identification bracelets, comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos of family members, photo albums, subscription to magazines or cable television or gift certificates for long distance telephone service.

• Warn people about difficult or unsafe gifts. Advise people not to bring dangerous tools or instruments, utensils, challenging board games, complicated electronic equipment, or pets.

• Allow the person to join in gift giving. For example, someone who once enjoyed cooking may enjoy baking cookies and packing them in tins or boxes. Or, you may want to buy the gift and allow the person to wrap it.

• Don’t neglect your own needs. If friends or family members ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate to a carryout restaurant, laundry or dry cleaner, or cleaning service. If you don’t receive these gifts, celebrate the holiday by giving such a gift to yourself.

• Ask for help and support. If someone ever asks, “What can I do to help?” you can respond with a specific idea.

Try to Be Flexible
• Consider celebrating over a lunch or brunch, rather than an evening meal, to work around the evening confusion or “sundowning” that sometimes affects some people with Alzheimer’s.

• Prepare to deal with your post-holiday letdown. You may want to arrange for in-home care so you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend and reduce post-holiday stress.

Remember that holidays are opportunities to share with the people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with Alzheimer’s disease so that you may concentrate on enjoying your time together.

Editor’s Note: At Hospice of the Red River Valley, we’ve been privileged to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association on a number of educational programs. We have asked the Alzheimer’s Association to share this information with our readers who may be facing the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading U.S. voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Its mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. The Association’s vision is a world without Alzheimer’s disease. For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, nonprofit hospice serving more than 30 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email questions@hrrv.org or visit www.hrrv.org.


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