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Do you have happy memories of the holidays?  What were those memories and how did your loved one who now has Alzheimer’s play into the creation of traditions that are so much a part of your past?  Is it possible to “resurrect” and “revise” some of those traditions?  Perhaps it is a time to recreate those old traditions so that they encompass that loved one who doesn’t remember what “you used to do anyway!”   

Most people with Alzheimer’s respond in wonderfully positive ways to music.  Why not fill your home with the oldest music you can find that sings happiness, togetherness, and celebration!  

Perhaps you no longer fill your home with lots of people because crowds overwhelm that loved one with Alzheimer’s but this does not mean that you must be a recluse, cut off from family and friends.   

Whatever memories you hold dear about the holidays, you may worry that if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s that it will no longer be possible to create new and happy memories.  Such a sad thought!  But is it true?  It doesn’t have to be true.  There are ways to involve your loved one in the holiday festivities as long as we are willing to change, to simplify, and to look for moments of joy!

Suggestions for change can make a huge difference in whether the holiday is joyful or stressful.  If your loved one with Alzheimer’s is in the middle stage of the disease, functioning as a toddler, it is important to maintain normal routines, such as rest times and meal times. Too much deviation from regular routines produces difficult behaviors, and caregivers may need to limit the size of groups that visit the home and make sure that the visits are reasonable in length.  Too many visitors who stay for too long may overwhelm the person with Alzheimer’s disease. The caregiver must feel at ease in explaining that her/his loved one can only handle so much “of a good thing” and then struggles to “hold it together”.

Families can be a huge support to the primary caregiver – sometimes just by running interference for that caregiver and providing explanations to family and friends regarding the realities of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting or conference call with family and friends to discuss how Alzheimer’s has impacted both the person with the disease as well as the primary caregiver and immediate family is a wonderful strategy for informing those who are not involved on a daily basis what it means to have a loved one with this disease. Traditions need to change. It is no longer possible for the primary caregiver to also be responsible for maintaining every holiday tradition.  The rule for those individuals who are involved in care is: to simplify, simplify, simplify! Substitutions for long standing traditions are easily found and still preserve the goal of the celebration, which is being together!

Gift giving can be another challenge when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Those who want to give gifts could benefit from some simple directions such as buying useful items such as an ID bracelet, fleece lined sweat pants and tops that are easy to put on and because they are lined with fleece remain soft and non-irritating to the individual’s skin; memory books or photo albums. These are all gifts that will benefit both the person with Alzheimer’s as well as her/his caregiver.

The individual with Alzheimer’s may still enjoy giving gifts. For example if the individual used to bake, assisting her/him to make cookies and helping the individual to pack them into tins or boxes may be an activity that allows the person to feel “part-of” the festivities.

Flexibility is also essential when planning holiday activities – keeping in mind the needs of the person with Alzheimer’s.  For instance if the person with Alzheimer’s experiences sun-downing or evening confusion, it makes sense to plan all celebrations earlier in the day when the person with Alzheimer’s is at her/his best.  The primary caregiver needs to be cognizant of her/his own needs and builds in “away” time with others. Engaging the services of others to provide “in—home” care allows the caregiver the freedom to enjoy some time without the constant demands of caregiving.

References:  Alzheimer’s Association (2007). Holidays.  

Terrazas, B. (2010). How to Cope with Alzheimer’s during the Holidays.  Dallas News;

From 2014 – 2015, Verna Benner Carson, Ph.D. was an adjunct staff member for Western Illinois Home Health Care. She is currently President of C&V Senior Care Specialists Dr. Carson is also Associate Professor of Nursing at Towson University in Baltimore, MD.

November 2015

by Verna Benner Carson

Alzheimer’s and the Holidays: Continuing to Make Happy Memories

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