Alzheimer's Caregiving During the Holidays: Making the Season Bright

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM Senior Care Management Services, LLC
  • Expert Advice
Published on:
A family gathering enjoying a holiday dinner.

Learn some helpful caregiver tips for the holiday season.

NOTE: this article was written prior to the COVID pandemic.  Please follow all local public heath guidelines.

No matter the time of year, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s requires an understanding of the one for whom we care.  As their caregiver, you know them well—the rhythm of their day, what they like, what calms or upsets them.  This understanding is all very important in managing their daily life.  But the holiday season is filled with events that happen just once a year, which can be exciting and heartwarming for many, or can be—for one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia—confusing, over-stimulating and agitating.  With parties, large family gatherings, and the excitement of preparation, we as caregivers will be more successful in our role if we are ready with a plan for our loved one.  Pre-planning for the holidays, along with modifying our expectations and traditions, can make a huge difference for our loved one, as well as for us as caregivers. 

Maybe We Don’t Need to Make So Many Cookies This Year

Is one of your traditions baking lots of cookies during the weeks leading up to the holidays?  Weekend afternoons or late nights, dozens and dozens of cookies, using many old, family recipes?  Those were great times.  But, as good as the memories are, maybe this year, extreme cookie baking is one area to cut back.  It just may be better to bake a few dozen of one or two favorite recipes.  If your care recipient can recall one or two favorites, bake those.  Where possible, include them in the cookie baking process.  Have a good time with it.  If they become unable to finish the whole process, consider that they probably had a great time and let them stop there.  The process is more important than the result. 

Cookie baking is just an example of where we may need to modify our expectations of an outcome.  Holiday parties, big family gatherings, church services, shopping, are a few other areas.  In one way or another, holiday events can just be too much for one with Alzheimer’s.  Before embarking on any of these, think about how much would be enough for your care recipient.  Overall, remember:

  • Only do what you and they can manage, and be okay with that.
  • Choose the traditions and activities that are the most important.  Leave out the rest.
  • Hosting a party?  Maybe a small party will do instead of the huge event from years past.  Opt for catered or take out to round out the food.  Or, consider hosting an event that is potluck.
  • Where possible, have a place where your loved one can take a break from the festivities to rest.
  • If having any visitors during the holiday season, try to keep it to two or three at a time.  Too many at one time can be overwhelming.
  • What is their best time of day?  Schedule any visitors for that time.

Some Seasonal Safety Concerns

Don’t forget a couple of safety matters.  Keep the lighted candles out of the house, as well as the decorations that may be mistaken for edible food.

What About You?

Through it all, remember to take care of you and your holiday too.  To make it a magical season, build some of your own favorite traditions into the season. It may mean doing it without your care recipient, but either way, be sure you give yourself the gift of the season.  If needed, find someone who can cover for you as caregiver, whether it is for an afternoon or evening, or a few days.

Most important, it is the spirit of togetherness and fun that family and friends value and cherish from year to year.  Make sure you are having fun.  That is what you, your family, and your care recipient need most.

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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