How to Help a Family Member With Alzheimer’s Celebrate the Holidays

By Linda Jenkins | November 21st, 2018

Caregiving consultant Linda Jenkins shares wisdom about how to celebrate the holidays with family members who are living with dementia.

Holidays are typically a festive time of the year with family and close friends. Now, factor in being a caregiver to a family member with Alzheimer’s disease. Can you celebrate in the same way?  As a caregiver to my mother with Alzheimer’s, I can tell you that it’s possible. However, there are some things to consider when entertaining family and friends and adding a loved one with Alzheimer’s into the mix.

Caregiving is a stressful role in and of itself; throwing in entertaining friends and family during the holidays can become more stressful causing the caregiver to have less patience.

How does someone in a caregiving role pull off a celebration that includes guests, the Alzheimer’s patient and make it personally enjoyable?

  • Start early by enlisting help from local family members. They can help with meal preparations.
  • Ask some of your closest friends to run errands for you. More than likely they have errands to run too, so helping you out won’t be an inconvenience.
  • Ask your children to help with household chores, taking care of pets and anything else you need to have done around the house.

When you ask for help it doesn’t mean you’re weak and can’t handle hosting celebrations. By enlisting help wherever you can it actually demonstrates how organized you are about getting things done in an efficient way.

Keep Things Intimate

If the person with Alzheimer’s lives with you, or will be visiting for a short time, make sure to keep the amount of people invited to a small group. A more intimate party allows the person with Alzheimer’s to remain calm since loud voices, chaos and people talking over one another can create anxiety for a person with dementia.

All Is Calm—Including Your Noise Level

Holiday music is a favorite of most everyone; however, loud noises can be upsetting to your loved one. Try a selection of more classic soft carols playing in the background.

These kinds of visits are much more special than trying to figure out what kind of gift you want to give them; being with them is the ultimate gift.

Be considerate of your loved one with Alzheimer’s by paying close attention if they are getting tired and need to lie down. In my experience, they won’t tell you they are getting tired, but anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s tires easily and can become agitated if they start feeling this way.

Prepare Family Members

You might notice how family and friends are doing their best to interact with your loved one so they don’t feel left out. If they haven’t been around this person in a long time remind them to speak slowly and in a calm voice, that way your loved one will be able to understand them and try to process what is being said. Have a conversation with other family members before the celebration. Whatever you do, don’t discuss the Alzheimer’s patient’s situation in front of them to other people. Even though you might think they don’t understand what’s being said, they know you’re talking about them.

Have Your Own Celebration

If your loved one lives in a nursing home or assisted living and isn’t able to go to your house, set aside a specific time to be with them. My mom had a sitter who decorated her room and we had our own little celebration with a few items I knew she needed. Afterwards, we joined a small group for refreshments and some Christmas carols. The time I spent with her didn’t tire her out and she seemed content.

I didn’t have family nearby, but if you do, take the children or grandchildren along. You can even take the family pet. These kinds of visits are much more special than trying to figure out what kind of gift you want to give them; being with them is the ultimate gift. This is also a great photo opportunity to get all the family together and make a special memory of this particular holiday.

Having a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to make the holidays stressful. Spending the holidays with that family member provides an opportunity for other family members to show how much they still love and care about them. This time together creates a new and different kind of bond with the person who has Alzheimer’s. These are keepsake memories.

Linda Jenkins writes about her experience with Alzheimer’s on her blog

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