Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Offers Tips Families Affected by Alzheimer’s Disease Should Consider When Planning Holiday Celebrations

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and millions more are serving as caregivers for a family member with the disease.  As these families prepare to celebrate the holidays, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering tips to help make the family gathering as enjoyable as possible for their loved one living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses.

“Being together with family is what the holiday season is all about, but the holiday season can also bring a significant amount of stress and emotions, which can often be magnified when a family is also dealing with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s President & CEO.  “Many of the elements of holiday celebrations, such as large crowds, noise and a break from everyday routine, may present challenges for both people living with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers.  As families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s make their plans for the holidays, there are steps they should take into consideration that will help them keep the ‘happy’ in ‘happy holidays.’”

AFA advises families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s to consider the following:

  • Be open. Consider sharing beneficial information with family and friends regarding your loved one’s health prior to a gathering.  This will enable them to understand where the person may be in the disease process, so that they know how they can be helpful and supportive.
  • Be sensitive to the individual’s needs.  Excess stimuli can be challenging for an individual living with dementia, which is why it’s important to take the environment into account ahead of time.  Be aware of your loved one’s sensitivity to factors such as crowds and loud noises, and try to plan celebrations in a way that minimizes those stresses.  Have comforting items and activities available to help.
  • Maintain the person’s normal routine. Changes in one’s daily routine can also cause challenges for someone living with dementia.  Planning can be the key to ensuring a person’s comfort.  If the person usually takes an afternoon walk, build in time for that.  If they go to bed earlier in the evening, hold the celebration earlier in the day so that everyone can participate.
  • Plan travel appropriately. If you’re traveling to a celebration with someone who has Alzheimer’s, consider their capabilities and plan to make arrangements that are comfortable and realistic.  Take into account whether they travel better at a specific time of day.
  • Keep your loved one involved. Find ways to maintain your loved one’s involvement in the holiday celebration.  If they are used to doing the holiday cooking, keep them involved, such as by inviting them into the preparation process. If they enjoyed music, play some of their favorite holiday songs or ones from their favorite era so they may enjoy them as they always have.
  • Build on past traditions and find new ways to connect.  Keep building on old traditions where you can; share old family photos with your loved one and reminisce.  Create new traditions; find things they are able to do and enjoy, such as looking at neighborhood holiday lights or listening to music, and spend time doing it with them.

AFA encourages families who have questions or concerns to contact its National Toll-Free Helpline, which is staffed entirely by licensed social workers trained in dementia care.  AFA’s social workers are available to provide assistance and support and can be reached by calling 866-232-8484 or via email, live chat or Skype through AFA’s website,