Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

Bringing Holiday Cheer to a Loved One Living with Alzheimer’s

Tips for a dementia-friendly holiday celebration from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

(November 30, 2018) — With millions of American families affected by Alzheimer’s disease getting ready to celebrate the holidays, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing tips on how to adapt holiday gatherings to make them as enjoyable as possible for someone living with a dementia-related illness.

“Being together with family are what the holidays are all about.  Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to change that,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s president and CEO.  “There are ways to adapt holiday gatherings to be sensitive to the needs of a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, so that they can remain involved in the celebration and enjoy the holidays with their loved ones.”

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans.  The number of people in the US with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to nearly triple by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Families who have questions or would like additional information can contact AFA’s Helpline at 866-232-8484 and speak with a licensed social worker.  The helpline is open seven days a week; 9 am to 9 pm (et) on weekdays and 9 am to 1 pm (et) on weekends.