Caring for Those With Alzheimer's at the Holidays

Dec. 12, 2019

By Rebecca Axline

Holiday season. These two words, in my mind (and probably in your mind as well), bring up many images and memories of traditions and gatherings with family and friends.

For people and families dealing with memory and behavior changes due to Alzheimer’s disease, finding joy might be challenging — but it can be done.

My experience with families and individuals over the years has taught me the keys to a positive holiday season are about managing expectations and planning early. While the hustle and bustle that is a common theme this time of year brings some stress for all of us, this stress can be constant for individuals and families dealing with dementia or cognitive impairment.

Instead of giving up on enjoying the holiday season, I would suggest making some minor adjustments to your family traditions.

Keep your loved one as involved as possible

Give your loved one a sense of purpose by involving him or her in your holiday planning and activities, such as:

  • Discussing gift selections
  • Opening cards together
  • Asking for help with simple baking tasks


In the moment, try focusing on the memories you are making, rather than the outcome or perfect results.

Maintain a normal structure as much as possible

Even though you are busy, being consistent with medications, treatments and day programs will be better for your loved one and, ultimately, for you.

Choose decorations that are festive, yet safe

You can still create a beautifully decorated home during the holidays, accepting that the décor may be very different from years past. Make sure your loved one’s living space is safe. Lighted candles may be a hazard, and large blinking lights can cause disorientation.

Keep gatherings stress-free

Minimize overstimulation and your anxiety level, as this can transfer to your loved one. Keep activities simple and alert your guests ahead of time about your own needs and wishes. Other tips for keeping the stress level down include:

  • Lessening the number of visitors
  • Simplifying the plan
  • Allowing a few days of relaxation before and after a large holiday gathering


Care for yourself, too

Make a list of the usual things you do during the holidays and decide which you want to keep in your plan — and which you don’t mind skipping. Allow others to help you, and be clear in what your need for them to do. Include time away for yourself, and fill this time in ways that help you regain your energy.


About Rebecca

Rebecca Axline is a supervisory clinical social worker at Houston Methodist. She develops programs and clinical interventions with a primary focus of helping patients and family members cope with the stress of diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders and illnesses.