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December 10, 2012
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The Many Faces of Dementia: Helpful tips for holidays, Alzheimer's families

The holidays are a time when family and friends often come together. But for families living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, the holidays can be challenging. Take a deep breath. With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions.

Familiarize others

with the situation

The holidays are full of emotions, so it can help to let guests know what to expect before they arrive.

If the person is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, relatives and friends might not notice any changes. But the person with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat himself or herself. Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts.

If the person is in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer’s, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited. These changes can be hard to accept. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person.

Adjust expectations

Call a meeting to discuss upcoming plans.

The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Invite family and friends to a face-to-face meeting, or if geography is an obstacle, set up a telephone conference call. Make sure everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine.

Be good to yourself.

Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you’ve always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider paring it down to a few guests for a simple meal.

Do a variation on a theme.

If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. If you do keep the celebration at night, keep the room well lit and try to avoid any known triggers.

Involve the person with dementia.

Build on past traditions and memories.

Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums.

Involve the person in holiday preparation.

As the person’s abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you put them up. (Be careful with decoration choices. Blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with dementia, and decorations that look like food could be mistaken as edible.)

Maintain a normal routine.

Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. Plan time for breaks and rest.

Reduce post-holiday stress.

Arrange for respite care so you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend.

Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia.

Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Ideas include: an identification bracelet (available through MedicAlert or Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return), comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos and photo albums.

When the person lives

in a care facility.

A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility. Here are some ways to celebrate together:

Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities.

Bring a favorite holiday food to share.

Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in.

Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud.

Tor Eckert has been intimately involved all facets of Alzheimer’s disease since the 2005 including owning an Alzheimer’s Care Home. His public speaking forums - The Many Faces of Dementia have provide health care professionals, adult children, caregivers and families with a better of understanding of Alzheimer’s and the other dementias. Subject matter comes from his experiences, training and hundreds of professionally written articles from many sources. His library spans more than 150 articles which are categorized into group, many reprinted with permission from various organizations. For more information, please contact Tor at

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The Union Updated Dec 10, 2012 10:46PM Published Dec 12, 2012 08:48AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.