The holidays are a joyful time, full of laughter, loved ones, family, and
However, if you’re caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the holiday season can sometimes bring additional stress and worry, leading you to ask questions like:
- How will I make sure Mom can enjoy the holidays like she used to?
- Will my siblings understand that I can’t take on everything this year?
- Why can’t we enjoy the holidays like we used to?
If your plate is full with caregiving responsibilities, keeping things simple during the holidays. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other family members to discuss how celebrations should look so everyone involved can enjoy a safe and stress-free holiday.
Simplify Holiday Traditions
First, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you don’t have to do everything. Trying to do everything by yourself is unnecessary. You also run the risk of wearing yourself out by trying – which may leave you with less energy to care for your loved one.
If you typically host a family gathering, consider asking another family member to assume this responsibility, reduce the number of guests, or better yet, host a virtual gathering this year. Forgo the holiday turkey and dozens of sides in favor of easier recipes, or order some items pre-prepared.
Have a frank discussion with your family members about what you are able to handle, and more importantly, what you are comfortable with. Let them know that holiday traditions are important, but things may need to be different this year than in years past. Be direct, and tell them how they can help to make this year’s celebrations easier and less stressful for everyone.
Remember that sometimes the simplest celebrations can be the most memorable. Think about what you most enjoy about this time of year and focus on those specific things.
Helping Loved Ones with Dementia Enjoy the Holidays
As you look for ways to include your loved one with dementia in holiday events, consider their current abilities and comfort level. If possible, ask them what they want to do for the holidays. If their dementia has progressed, think about how well they’ll be able to participate in activities and adjust accordingly.
Keep Them Involved
Your loved one may be able to help you with cooking or wrapping gifts. If that would be too difficult, just letting them watch you do these things may be soothing. Incorporate some of their own holiday traditions, too. Prepare a special food, put on a favorite song, or take time to look at old photos with them. These simple things can make the holidays more meaningful for them.
Keep Them Safe
Look at the holidays from their point of view. If bright lights, loud noises, or too many people around upsets them, eliminate those things. Many people with Alzheimer’s are afraid of or confused by blinking lights, so try to tone down your home decor. Also, don’t leave out decorations that may be mistaken for food, like faux fruit or bowls of potpourri.
IF you will be hosting guests, set expectations and limits for the duration of their visit. Make visitors aware of your loved one’s dementia, especially if what they can expect has changed since their last visit. For example, prepare them in case your loved one might not remember your guest or may be more confused than usual about their presence.
If your visitors will be bringing gifts, encourage them to bring gifts that will be safe and useful for your loved one, like soft clothes or blankets or a favorite snack.
As you go about the holiday season, make sure to regularly check in and assess how your loved one is doing. Take breaks if they need some time to decompress.
Celebrating in a Senior Living Community
If your loved one with Alzheimer’s resides in a senior living community, you can still make the holidays special for them. Plan a visit - or virtual visit - with an appropriate number of family members. Consider trying one of the following:
- Bring a food or beverage to share, if permitted
- Decorate their room with a few small holiday items
- Make or buy cards to read aloud and display
As with any celebration, be realistic about how your loved one might react. If you sense they’re getting frustrated or tired, it’s OK to cut the visit short.
No matter how the holidays go this year, know that any feelings of guilt or stress you have are completely normal - and no one expects more of you than you do! In the end, caring for a loved one with dementia is a full-time job, and you’re a superhero for doing it.
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