Holidays can be bittersweet for families affected by Alzheimer's. Try these simple tips to make the holidays easier on everyone.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The holiday season can cause mixed feelings for those who have a loved one living with Alzheimer's. It's common to experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be and to feel guilt about what we think we should do or how we think we should feel.

At a time when you believe you should be happy, you could instead find that stress, disappointment and sadness prevail. You might also feel pressure to keep up family traditions, despite the demands caregiving places on your time and energy.

As a caregiver, it isn't realistic to expect 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.

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

  • Make preparations together. If you bake, your loved one might be able to participate by stirring batter or rolling dough. You might find it meaningful to open holiday cards together. Concentrate on the doing 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. Holiday gatherings often involve music and loud conversation. 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.

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. To avoid 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. A large group, however, might be overwhelming.
  • Schedule visits at your loved one's best time of day. Schedule your small gathering during that time.

To manage expectations during the holidays:

  • Pick and choose. Decide which holiday activities and traditions are most important, and focus on those you enjoy. Remember that you can't do it all.
  • Prepare family members. If you have family coming in from out of town, update them on your loved one's status ahead of time so they know what to expect.
  • Delegate. Remember family and friends who've offered their assistance. Let them help with cleaning, addressing cards and shopping for gifts. Ask if one of your children or a close friend could stay with your loved one while you go to a holiday party.

As a caregiver, you know your loved one's abilities best. You also know what's most likely to agitate or upset him or her. Resist pressure to celebrate the way others might expect you to. You can't control the progress of Alzheimer's or protect your loved one from all distress — but by planning and setting firm boundaries you can avoid needless holiday stress and enjoy the warmth of the season.

Nov. 07, 2015