Family holiday meal
Brain and Nervous System

7 Tips for Sharing Holiday Cheer with People With Alzheimer's

The holidays can be a stressful time for people with Alzheimer's, as well as their caregivers. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to make this busy time of year easier on everyone. Here are seven tips to help you keep your loved one with Alzheimer's comfortable and supported this holiday season.

1. Keep It Simple

The key is to keep things low-key and relaxed. If you had an elaborate and active holiday season in the past, consider paring it down to ease your stress and prevent overstimulation for your loved one with Alzheimer's. Which of your traditions are most meaningful? Choose a few that you really love, and don't stress over the others.

Keep decorations simple, too. The Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) recommends keeping walkways clear and using decorations that won't be overly distracting or cause your loved one to become disoriented.

2. Consider Your Loved One's Capabilities

People with early-stage Alzheimer's will likely be able to participate in more complex and engaging activities than those dealing with the disease in its more advanced stages. Be aware of how far the condition has advanced and what impact that has on how much your loved one can handle. Whatever plans you make, be prepared to adapt. Watch for signs of anxiety or distress, and make sure you can exit the situation quickly should the need arise.

3. Maintain Routines

The National Institutes of Health recommends maintaining your loved one's set routines when scheduling family gatherings and other activities. As much as possible, keep meal times consistent with their existing schedule, and find other ways to meld family gatherings with patterns that are already in place. If you take a walk together every day at 10 a.m., continue to do so -- perhaps visiting family members can join the walk on the mornings they're in town. Preserving routines like this, even on the day of the holiday, can help ease confusion and anxiety for someone experiencing memory loss.

4. Be Mindful of Crowds and Noise

Family gatherings can be fun and boisterous, but they can also be stressful. This is especially true for a person with Alzheimer's. The combination of lots of noise and a large crowd, even if they're family members -- remember, your loved one may be having difficulty recognizing people they know -- can be overwhelming and lead to anxiety.

The AFA recommends having a few smaller family gatherings rather than one large get-together. You might also consider having a quiet side room where your loved one can feel comfortable; guests could take turns visiting with the person with Alzheimer's in a relaxed, low-key manner.

5. Pay Attention to Time

People with Alzheimer's often function best in the morning. They tend to fade in the late afternoon and early evening -- this is when behavioral issues are most likely to occur, the AFA points out. If possible, plan gatherings earlier in the day. You could have a lovely breakfast or brunch rather than an evening meal, or a lunch party rather than one late at night.

It's also important to consider the amount of time spent at events. While a party may go for five hours, your loved one may be ready to do something else after just an hour or two. Plan shorter events, or provide plenty of exit opportunities if it seems like you're taxing their reserves. Getting away from the activity before the anxiety sets in can help prevent a stressful situation for everyone.

6. Communicate With Other Family Members

Let people know in advance what to expect from your loved one. Update your family on the extent of the memory loss, any behavior patterns that have developed, and what signs of agitation to look out for. Give them tips on communicating, and share information on your loved one's pet peeves. When family understands the situation, they'll be better able to roll with any unconventional behavior and help diffuse potentially stressful situations.

7. Take Care of Yourself

Caring for people with Alzheimer's is stressful, and so are the holidays. Together, the two can be overwhelming. If you have other family around for the holidays, this may be the time to let them participate in caregiving. Encourage your family members to spend some quality time with your loved one, and then take that opportunity to take care of your own needs. Recharge and relax; do something fun.

Keep things simple, low-key, and relaxed, and you can enjoy a lovely holiday season for the whole family, including your loved one with Alzheimer's.

Posted in Brain and Nervous System

Judy Schwartz Haley is a freelance writer and blogger. She grew up in Alaska and now makes her home in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Judy battled breast cancer when her daughter was an infant, and now she devotes much of her free time to volunteering as a state leader with the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.