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Holidays Gatherings and Dealing with Dementia

The holiday season is considered the most wonderful time of the year. It is a cherished time to gather together and create memories. This is especially true for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline and their family members that care for them.

You may feel the joy of this season as you plan to gather with loved ones, but it may also add an additional stress to an already chaotic time. As the list grows between cooking, decorating, hosting, and buying presents, there is another layer to navigating the holidays for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Your family member with cognitive decline may experience some anxiety or more confusion than normal as annual traditions may be a forgotten memory. As a caregiver, you navigate this new way of life along with your loved one.

With Alzheimer’s disease, there are still opportunities to create memories. You may need to limit or even alter traditions, but you can still cherish your time together. It can be a tricky balance between enjoying the season and not overwhelming yourself and your loved one.

Here are some tips:

  • Choose the right time of day. Many people diagnosed with dementia are better during the day while their mood shifts as the sun goes down referred to as sundown syndrome. Shifting the traditional holiday dinner to holiday lunch may be a great solution to alleviate the change someone experiences towards the evening.
  • Provide the right atmosphere. Plan a quiet, private space to avoid overstimulation. It is important to have a space without loud noise or the bright lights from holiday decor. Balance checking on them while giving them time to adjust.

As the list grows between cooking, decorating, hosting, and buying presents, there is another layer to navigating the holidays for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

  • Plan simple but meaningful activities. Even though you may need to modify some activities, it can still be a meaningful time together. It can be as simple as looking through photo albums, listening to favorite holiday songs, or even baking a traditional sweet treat together. Whatever you choose to do, ensure you focus on the task, not the result.
  • Communicate with friends and family. The holidays bring many family members of all ages together, and they may have questions or concerns about being around someone with Alzheimer’s. It’s important to express the changes they may see while also sharing helpful tips on how to interact.
  • Trust your instincts. You know your loved one best. You see how positively or negatively socialization affects him/her. You know how much they either love a certain holiday tradition or maybe it’s one that can be skipped. You can set the boundaries, and be clear about them to others.

Regardless of how the holidays may look this year, it’s important to remember that this time is not about the activities or even past traditions. It’s about cherishing your family and friends and being grateful for the time you have together. It is a gift, and that’s why it’s called the present.


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