Alzheimer's: Tips to make holidays more enjoyable

Holidays can be bittersweet for families affected by Alzheimer's. Try these simple tips to make the holidays less disruptive and more pleasant for everyone. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're like many who are caring for a loved one with dementia, the holiday season may not feel so merry. Memories of better times may surface as reminders of what you've lost or what has changed. At a time when you believe you should be happy, you may instead find that stress, disappointment and sadness prevail.

At the same time, you may think that you should live up to expectations of family traditions and how things ought to be. As a caregiver, it isn't realistic to think that you will have the time or the energy to participate in all of the holiday activities as you once did.

Yet, by adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you can still find meaning and joy for you and your family. Here are some ideas.

Keep it simple at home

If you're caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's at home:

  • Make preparations together. If you bake, your loved one may be able to participate by measuring flour, stirring batter or rolling dough. You may find it meaningful to open holiday cards or wrap gifts together. Remember to concentrate on the process, rather than the result.
  • Tone down your decorations. Blinking lights and large decorative displays can cause disorientation. Avoid lighted candles and other safety hazards, as well as decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats — such as artificial fruits.
  • Host quiet, slow-paced gatherings. Music, conversation and meal preparation all add to the noise and stimulation of an event. Yet for a person who has Alzheimer's, a calm and quiet environment usually is best. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible and, as needed, provide your loved one a place to rest during family get-togethers.

Be practical away from home

If your loved one lives in a nursing home or other facility:

  • Celebrate in the most familiar setting. For many people who have Alzheimer's, a change of environment — even a visit home — can cause anxiety. Instead of creating that disruption, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility. You might also participate in holiday activities planned for the residents.
  • Minimize visitor traffic. Arrange for a few family members to drop in on different days. Even if your loved one isn't sure who's who, two or three familiar faces are likely to be welcome, while nine or 10 people may be overwhelming.
  • Schedule visits at your loved one's best time of day. People who have Alzheimer's tire easily, especially as the disease progresses. Your loved one may appreciate morning and lunchtime visitors more than those in the afternoon or evening.
Dec. 04, 2012 See more In-depth