Managing holidays & gatherings

Happy and healthy holidays

For many, the holidays represent a time to create special moments and to reconnect with loved ones. For a person with Alzheimer's, traditions and decorations seen since childhood can be reassuring.

But the presence of others can also cause confusion or anxiety, and not all family members may understand changes to a person's personality and know how best to interact with someone with dementia. Addressing changes with those who may not have seen a loved one with dementia for a long time can help give them a better understanding, as well as some ideas to create moments enjoyable for everyone.

The holidays, from preparation leading up to the visit to the day itself, often means more work and stress. That is especially true for caregivers who take on an additional burden and making sure the holidays are not only as pleasant as possible, but also safe. Here are some tips to help create a more enjoyable holiday season for all.


Don't go it alone

Caregivers already have plenty on their plate taking care of someone with dementia or memory loss. The often enormous task of preparing a meal can not only be challenging to complete on its own, but balancing time commitments between preparation and caring for a loved one may make this impossible.

Consider having a smaller dinner, or make the meal a potluck where everyone can bring part of the meal to share. Another option would be to explore what a local grocery store or local restaurant may have pre-packaged.


Team up for the holidays

Holidays draw out powerful memories, and that includes those with memory loss. Traditions, particularly those from childhood, can give those with memory loss energy as they may recognize decorations or themes.

Involve the person with memory loss in some of the more simple parts of holiday preparation. Whether it's decorating, meal preparation or a long-held tradition, their participation may give them pleasure in helping out or encourage positive memories about past holidays.


Prepare for extra festive cheer

Even in calm settings, bringing in a group of people or going to a new environment can cause confusion or irritation for those with dementia. Voices that rise in excitement or enjoyment may cause stress or startle them.

Designate a space where someone can rest or engage in a quiet distraction, like looking at pictures, coloring pages, or another activity that person usually enjoys. Be clear with others that this space is needed in case noise, movement or energy becomes overwhelming.


Help others understand

Even if family or friends know that a loved one has memory loss, help them understand as much as you are willing. Explain ahead of time that Alzheimer's can be more than just forgetfulness; they may not always remember what is expected and what is acceptable.

Show photos of the guests in the days leading up to the holiday, or set up a time talk via video before the event to help familiarize a loved one with those they are visiting. This can also help prepare friends and family for new behavior.

Family members or friends may encourage someone with memory loss to try and remember past moments. Let them know living in the present can be just as pleasant. While they may not recall names or memories, they can still enjoy company.


Setting boundaries as a caregiver

The holidays can be overwhelming, no matter if someone has memory loss or not. Caregivers, set your own limits and be clear about them to others.

Set aside time for holiday activities you enjoy. Whether it's an activity you can do together or alone, let friends and family know of its importance and how they can help. 

You do not have to live up to expectations of relatives or friends. Your situation is different now.


Home safety first

If you are hosting a holiday gathering, you're probably already a step ahead when it comes to general home safety. For the holidays, make sure decorations, such as Christmas trees, menorahs, or lights should be secured so that they do not fall or catch on fire. Anything flammable should be monitored at all times.

If you are traveling to someone else's home or another place, ensure general accessibility and pathways are clear to help increase home safety.