Helping Alzheimer’s Families – Including Your Own – Survive the Holidays

15435-20apHolidays can be challenging for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and can be a particularly stressful time for caregivers. The added layer of seemingly required holiday rituals, family and other social obligations, may completely tear apart an already stretched thin caregiving schedule. If you know a caregiver or their loved one, what can you do to help? If you are a caregiver, how can others help you?

Reach out and share the precious gift of time

Bake some cookies or provide a frozen meal for a caregiving neighbor or friend.  Bring a treat or holiday cards to an assisted living facility, or spend an afternoon listening to some old-time music with someone without local family. Smile. Hold a hand or pat a shoulder. Make a coupon book for a caregiver, providing coupons for cleaning service, errands or respite time. Ask friends to do the same for you.

Adjust expectations and establish ground-rules

If family visits are a part of your holiday traditions, hold a family conference call early-on. Provide an update on your loved one’s physical and mental changes and abilities so there are no surprises. Don’t forget to include your loved one in on the planning, if possible. Be sure to include plenty of down-time and escape paths for your loved one and you! Encourage the scheduling of separate, short visits by small groups. Provide everyone with an “Alzheimer’s 101″ tutorial in what to say, and how not to quiz, etc.


Ease the holiday chaos and burden by simplifying. Minimize holiday decorations; flashing lights can be frightening, and wires and decorative items can become tripping hazards. Take an evening drive around the neighborhood and see others’ holiday décor and skip the requirement at home altogether. Instead of shopping in crowded malls, buy or bake cookies for holiday gifts, perhaps having your loved one tie a ribbon around each plateful. Baking or cinnamon aromas may evoke wonderful memories.  If a caregiving friend traditionally hosts a sit-down meal, suggest a potluck or simple caroling this year instead. It isn’t the fanfare that makes these moments special; it is the chance of re-connecting and in making new memories.

Modify traditions

Darkness can be confusing, try a small daytime gathering instead of an evening party. Do your holidays involve travel? Travel is challenging, as daily routine and familiar settings are important to your loved one. If you must get the family together, try to do that in the most familiar setting (even if that is your loved one’s facility). If Grandpa normally carves the bird, but isn’t really up to it; have someone else carve it and place the platter in front of Grandpa to serve out on plates. Is cutting down a tree or doing shopping a family tradition? This year, get someone to stay with your loved one and enjoy the respite time by yourself or with another family member. Instead of hosting a party, have a more intimate gathering; perhaps simply story-telling in front of a fire while stringing popcorn for the tree.

And remember, the letters, “g-u-i-l-t” can’t be found in the word “holiday”! Cut yourself or other caregivers a lot of slack. It is ok to say “No, not this year”. It is ok to say, “We’re not doing gifts this year” or, “I am going to have Mom do 3 days at her Adult Day program this week so that I can attend a holiday party or go shopping”. Self-care and balancing the caregiving role with other roles is important. Saying no may help you focus on enjoying the moment you’re in right now.

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Blog written by Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer Diane Blum

Click here for more caregiver tips and expert advice from Family Care Specialist Stephanie

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