How to Help Seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Enjoy the Holidays

December 22, 2022

Holidays are often stressful for seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory challenges. The holidays bring a flurry of activity, changes in daily routine, and conversations with family and friends, which can take on a new meaning for seniors with memory care concerns. 

We have a list of helpful tips to Reduce Caregiver Stress for the holidays. Still, there are additional hacks and information that people caring for seniors with memory challenges can use to have an enjoyable holiday season.

1. Minimize your own stress
People with Alzheimer’s or dementia are usually quite sensitive to other people’s moods and feelings.

If you’re stressed and anxious, they’re likely to get stressed and agitated too. That can lead to challenging behaviors, making you even more stressed. 

Do your best to keep extra commitments to a minimum. That way, you won’t be overwhelmed by time-consuming holiday tasks.

2. Modify family traditions
With so many caregiving responsibilities, it will likely be overwhelming and stressful to do everything “like we used to” and be able to find ways to make them work for your older adult.

Minimize everyone’s stress by paring down and focusing on the traditions they value the most as a way to make them feel important and involved.

That could mean choosing something meaningful to them, like trimming the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, singing traditional songs, or baking special holiday treats instead of tackling all of them. 
3. Let them get involved in preparations
Many older adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia enjoy and want to be included in holiday festivities. Letting them participate in the holiday preparations helps them feel included and will keep them invested in what is happening. 

Focus on their current abilities and have them help with small tasks they can accomplish. They’ll feel useful and be happily occupied while you work on other things.

Activity suggestions:
Rolling cookie dough
Wiping the table
Polishing silverware
Wrapping presents
Hanging ornaments

Even if they don’t do a great job, let them continue if they enjoy themselves. You can re-do any essential tasks later.

4. Limit holiday decorations
Use moderation when decorating. Too much clutter, décor, or twinkling lights could cause overstimulation and disorientation.
Focus on cheerful items that bring back happy memories and are important to family traditions.
5. Keep visiting groups small to avoid overstimulation
Too many people, too much noise, and a flurry of activity can easily over-stimulate someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Don’t feel stuck with the usual traditions; make changes to help them stay calm and relaxed.

For example, instead of hosting one big party for all of the extended family, have a couple of casual get-togethers with small groups of relatives spread over a couple of weeks. Or, limit the guest list to immediate family only.
6. Schedule important activities for their best time of day
There are times of day when your older adult is at their best. Schedule the most meaningful holiday activities for these times when your older adult is most likely to participate successfully.

For example, if they get agitated in the evenings, have the holiday party earlier in the day.
Or, if your older adult doesn’t wake up until late morning, have the family gather in the evening so they can stick to their regular schedule.

7. Set aside a private, quiet space and encourage one-on-one visits
If a big family gathering is on the cards, whether at your house or a relative’s, it will be crowded and noisy.

To avoid overstimulating your older adult, arrange for them to stay in a quiet room away from the noise.

Family members can take turns spending quality time with them in their calm space.

8. Avoid big changes in diet
Even though holiday meals are filled with delicious treats, it might be better to limit foods that are too different from their ordinary diet.

Rich foods could upset their stomach.

Plus, having sugar or alcohol may cause some people with dementia to behave differently and interfere with their medications. 

9. Prepare the family
You see your older adult all the time, so the way they appear and behave is normal to you. But for others, it can be quite a shock if your older adult has declined since the last get-together.

Being surprised could make family members irrationally angry, treat your older adult poorly, or insist on making unwise changes to their care.

Minimize this unwanted behavior by giving your family a heads-up about what to expect before holiday events. This is helpful because you’ll likely get fewer criticisms and rude comments , and your older adult will likely be treated with greater care and respect.

You’re used to managing your older adult’s health needs and daily activities, but many of the things that are now a part of daily life can be strange and worrisome to others.

You may want to update family ahead of time about your older adult’s current health condition, explain common behaviors, and suggest ways of interacting that will help your older adult enjoy the family gathering.

Things you may want to share:
Significant weight loss or gain
Being in a wheelchair or relying heavily on a walker
Wearing disposable briefs and dealing with incontinence
Inability to do things for themselves, like eat or use the restroom
Unpredictable behavior or memory and cognitive problems caused by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia

10. Inform Visitors of the Rules for Visiting 
Seniors with dementia may enjoy holiday visitors as long as the visit isn’t overwhelming.

You can make these visits successful and positive by helping family and friends know what to say and do. When people are prepared with useful information and the right expectations, you’ll all come out of the visit with good feelings and nice memories.

Set visitors up for success by sharing some do’s and don’ts ahead of time. Send this blog to your visitors ahead of time so they’ll have time to absorb the information.

Having a great visit and understanding more about dementia might even encourage family and friends to visit more often.

Alzheimer’s and dementia can present quite a few unique challenges to the holiday season. Still, with some preparation and compassion, it can remain the enjoyable family time it used to be. We hope you find these tips useful and if you need additional support for you or your loved one, reach out to us at True Care to discuss care options. True Care has home health aides specializing in memory care and a memory care program. Contact us to explore our memory care options.

If you wish to be your loved one’s paid full-time caregiver, you can ask us about our Consumer Directed Personal Assistant Program (CDPAP). Click this link to get started

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