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Holiday Celebrations & Family Gatherings

Holidays are bittersweet for many Alzheimer's disease caregivers. The happy memories of the past contrast with the difficulties of the present, and extra demands on time and energy can seem overwhelming.

Holiday celebrations and religious festivities, like Christmas, are traditionally a time for family gatherings, the exchange of gifts, sharing food and drink, and general holiday cheer. However, it can be both a happy and stressful time, especially for caregivers because it also represents a break from normal routine.

Prepare the person with Alzheimer's Disease

  • Talk about and show pictures of the people who are coming to visit.
  • Play familiar holiday music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods.
  • Watch and/or help with decorations.
  • People with Alzheimer's may recognize faces of family members and friends but may not unable to recall names. Name tags are helpful.
  • Have a "quiet" room if things get too hectic and have a familiar person stay with them so they don't feel isolated or left out.
  • Prepare for distractions beforehand to divert attention if problem behavior occurs.

Preparing Visitors

  • Encourage them to visit, but ask that they call ahead to make sure it is a good time.
  • Celebrate early in the day or have a holiday lunch rather than dinner to reduce the likelihood of Sundowner Syndrome.
  • Familiarize visitors with behavior or conditions beforehand.
  • Try not to have too many people over at one time, which may be overwhelming.

If You Are a Caregiver

  • Plan ahead.
  • Take a break regularly; try some extra day care or in-home care.
  • Stop feeling guilty about things you can't control or change.
  • Cut out the unnecessary - don't be afraid to say no!
  • Ask for and accept help from family and friends.
  • Share your feelings - join a support group.
  • Take care of yourself; give yourself a gift!
  • Set limits as to what you are able to do and make sure the family understands your needs and wishes.
  • Create a clear pathway for walking; avoid wires, cords, and throw rugs.
  • Use ribbon or yarn instead of sharp hooks to hang ornaments and decorations.
  • Serve non-alcoholic beer, wine, or sparkling cider.
  • Avoid decorating with items that look edible.
  • Use plastic or silk mistletoe rather than real - it's toxic if eaten.
  • Avoid confusing, blinking lights.
  • Do not leave lighted candles or fireplaces unattended.



From Our Personal Experience

I have a hard time during the holiday period even now several years. My mother passed away just a few days before christmas in 2001. We said our goodbyes and the two days later had to go on like nothing had happened for her grandchildren who had effectively lost there grandmother 6 months earlier. I also recall the years before when what felt like a silent cloud hung over my families head as we tried to carry on knowing that that very christmas could be her final one with us.
Along with this was the added burden of watching a person who dearly wanted grandchildren, and now when she actually had some, was unable (or couldn't) enjoy watching them during the holiday festivities and the joy of christmas morning like the rest of us fondly remembered.
The reality is that no matter how much you want to ... You always remember those family members who have passed. Now, all these years later, You need to find a way to cope with losses of loved one ... I try and take a moment by myself to remember some of my christmas' with my mother and my grandmother before they had alzheimer's ... enough time to gather my emotions and then join my own family and watch our now adult children and their children just as I suspect my mother would have.

If You Are Visiting

  • Watch for signs of fatigue and agitation and shorten the length of your stay.
  • Bring photographs, holiday treats, a favorite record or other things to share.
  • Don't talk about your problems or depressing topics, or about their condition.
  • Encourage reminiscence; engage the Alzheimer's patient in conversation. Often those with Alzheimer's will remember events from the past, but may not remember anything that happened 30 minutes ago.
  • Ask the caregiver the best time of the day to visit.
  • Offer to do something for the caregiver (run an errand, prepare food, etc.).
  • Avoid making judgment.
  • Give of yourself.

Selecting Activities

  • Use past interests as a guide. If the activity is first introduced and there is no interest, try again later.
  • Slow the pace of the activities to allow the person with Alzheimer's to comprehend as well as enjoy the sensory pleasure from the activity.
  • Activity suggestions: make ornaments; decorate the tree; decorate cookies; package baked goods; polish silver or menorah; set the table; fold napkins; wrap presents; stuff, seal, or stamp holiday cards; sing or listen to songs; enjoy photos; videos or slides of family and past holidays; read favorite poems, stories, or seasonal magazines; take walks.