Alzheimer's Matters Blog

Living with Alzheimer’s: Tips for a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season

December 10, 2014

Category: Understanding Dementia


Family tension. Long-distance travel. Expensive gifts. It’s no secret that the holidays can be a stressful time. For families living with Alzheimer’s, that stress is often magnified by the additional anxiety from more activities, exposure to unfamiliar places, and breaks in routine.

We’ve put together a few tips to help you and your loved ones enjoy the holiday season while managing the challenges that come with Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. Prepare family and friends. Help to eliminate the stigma around Alzheimer’s disease by sharing your loved one’s diagnosis with family and friends—and by letting visitors know what to expect when they’re reunited with your loved one. They may not know, for example, that an individual in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can often appear normal while needing more time to process information and respond to questions. If your loved one’s condition has deteriorated significantly, visitors may also benefit from a warning about these changes.

  2. Reconsider travel plans. If your loved one still enjoys travel, there’s no reason not to plan a trip to a familiar place—but be sure to keep these tips from the Alzheimer’s Association in mind to ensure a safe, comfortable excursion. As your loved one’s disease progresses, you may need to reconsider travel and plan for a lower-stress holiday at home.

  3. Embrace old traditions. Familiarity can make the hectic holiday season easier for a person with Alzheimer’s. Consider focusing on holiday traditions that are particularly significant to your loved one, rather than experimenting with new traditions. He or she may enjoy watching an old holiday movie, singing a familiar song, eating a much-loved meal, or flipping through a family photo album.

  4. Involve your loved one in holiday preparations. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis doesn’t mean your loved one can no longer participate in holiday traditions. He or she may enjoy simple, repetitive holiday tasks such as stringing garlands with berries or popcorn, addressing holiday cards, measuring ingredients for a baking project and reading—or listening to—familiar holiday stories.

  5. Maintain a regular routine. Holiday festivities can involve late nights and new surroundings—circumstances that can be confusing and unsettling for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. To prevent celebrations from becoming disruptive, try to time activities and meals around your loved one’s normal schedule and leave time for rest and regular breaks.

  6. Adjust gift giving. Not sure what to buy a person with Alzheimer’s? Though some gifts may no longer be safe or appropriate, others can go a long way toward brightening the day of your loved one. Appropriate gifts can range from the personal (such as photo albums and favorite CDs or DVDs) to the practical (such as a medic alert bracelet or a dinnerware set designed for a person with dementia). And comfort—think a cozy outfit or blanket—is always appreciated.

  7. Ask for help. It’s easy to try to do too much during the holiday season. Let your network know if you need help—whether that means cooking meals, hosting events, or pitching in on some caregiving duties. Taking care of yourself is as critical as taking care of the one you love.

  8. Expect the unexpected. Have a plan in place to help you cope with any unexpected situations. If your loved one grows agitated or confused, you may need to redirect their attention, comfort and reassure them, or remove them from the situation.

We hope you and your loved ones have an enjoyable and stress-free holiday season.