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Alzheimer’s and Holiday Celebrations: Planning Savvy

Advice to make the holidays less stressful for the Alzheimer’s patient and loved ones from Emeritus Senior Living’s Director of Memory Care.

By Crystal Roberts

The holidays are a time for families to gather and celebrate generations coming together to enjoy each other’s company. Though for those caring for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, this time of year can bring increased anxiety as they strive to create a calm holiday environment while keeping family traditions alive.  For that reason, Emeritus Senior Living, a national provider of assisted living and Alzheimer’s and related dementia care services to seniors, has put together helpful guidelines and suggestions to make this holiday season a memorable one for the whole family. Planning holiday celebrations for Alzheimer’s patients calls for some adaptation, but this preplanning can be good for everyone.

The holidays are an important time of year for families to come together, and keeping our loved ones living with Alzheimer’s involved in family traditions continues to be critically important. By incorporating our loved ones in their favorite activities and by taking steps to prepare both the senior and other family members for celebratory events, families can create new memories while fostering a connection with seniors on a deeper level.

Caregivers should take the following steps in order to prepare the person who is living with Alzheimer’s as well as tailor holiday celebrations for Alzheimer’s patients:

     
  • Talk about and show pictures of the people who are coming to visit.
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  • Play familiar holiday music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods.
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  • Have loved one watch or help with decorations.
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  • People with Alzheimer’s may recognize faces of family members and friends, but may be unable to recall names. Name tags are helpful.
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  • Have a "quiet" room for if things get too hectic, and have a familiar person stay with them so they don’t feel isolated or left out.
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  • Prepare for distractions beforehand to divert attention if problem behavior occurs.
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  • Incorporate favorite traditions from the past.  If the activity is first introduced and there is no interest, try again later.
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  • Slow the pace of the activities to allow the person with Alzheimer’s to comprehend as well as enjoy the sensory pleasure from the activity.

Caregivers are also encouraged to:

     
  • Plan ahead.
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  • Take a break regularly; try some extra day care or in-home care.
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  • Cut out the unnecessary—don’t be afraid to say no!
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  • Ask for and accept help from family and friends.
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  • Set limits as to what you are able to do and make sure the family understands your needs and wishes.
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  • Create a clear pathway for walking; avoid wires, cords, and throw rugs.
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  • Use ribbon or yarn instead of sharp hooks to hang ornaments and decorations.
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  • Serve non-alcoholic beer, wine, or sparkling cider.
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  • Avoid decorating with items that look edible.
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  • Use plastic or silk mistletoe rather than real—it’s toxic if eaten.
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  • Avoid confusing, blinking lights.
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  • Do not leave lighted candles or fireplaces unattended.

By following these suggestions and making these important adaptations in holiday celebrations for Alzheimer’s patients, the holidays can still be enjoyable for all family members and leave you with positive and lasting memories of these times spent with your loved one.