The holidays are a joyful time, full of laughter, loved ones, family, and friends. If you’re caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the holiday season can sometimes add stress and worry:
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?
I wish we could enjoy the holidays the way we once did.
If your plate is full with your caregiving responsibilities, it’s OK to keep things simple when preparing for visitors and everything else that comes with the season.
How to simplify during the holidays
First, take a deep breath and tell yourself this: I don’t have to do everything. Trying to do everything by yourself is unnecessary, and you may also wear yourself out trying.
If you typically host a large family gathering with dozens of people, ask another family member to host. Forgo the holiday turkey and dozens of sides in favor of simpler recipes.
Have a frank discussion with your family members about your capacity. Let them know you would love to continue the traditions, but you’re feeling stretched in many different directions this year. Offer to help in any way you can, but don’t feel obligated to take on everything.
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 things, not everything.
Related: Get more tips for caregivers >>
Helping loved ones with dementia enjoy the holidays
Consider your loved one’s abilities and comfort level. If you can, ask them what they want to do for the holidays. If their dementia has progressed further, think about how well they’ll be able to participate in activities and adjust accordingly.
Keep them involved
Some people 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. A special food, favorite song, or time looking at old photos can help make the holidays meaningful for them.
Keep them safe
Look at the holidays from their point of view. If bright lights, loud noises, or a crowded room will upset them, make sure to eliminate those things. Many people with Alzheimer’s are afraid of or confused by blinking lights, so try to tone down your home decor. Don’t leave out decorations that may be mistaken for food, like faux fruit or bowls of potpourri.
Prepare your guests
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 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 gathering, make sure to check in and assess how your loved one is doing. Take breaks if they need some time to decompress.
Celebrating with a loved one in a senior living community
If your loved one with Alzheimer’s lives in a senior living community, you can still make the holidays special for them. Plan a 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.
- Join the other elders in a planned activity or meal.
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.
More help with caring for someone who has dementia
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. In the end, caring for a parent with dementia is a full-time job, and you’re a superhero for doing it.
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