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Issues Tank: Celebrating the Holidays With Alzheimer's

Issues Tank: Celebrating the Holidays With Alzheimer's
New York City woman talks about spending the holidays with her dad.

The holidays are a time to spend with family and friends.  But, when you have a family member with Alzheimer's, the holidays can be difficult.  

Amy Lee's dad has stage four Alzheimer's.  She says the holidays can be stressful because her dad gets flustered with all the holiday activities.

 "The person that has Alzheimer’s is going to get troubled whether it's by the loud music, people drinking or people talking." 

Lee says her dad isn't even aware of the significance of the holidays anymore.  So, they celebrate a different way.  

"Sometimes we'll just create a separate day and celebrate it just with him so that he gets all the attention."   

President and CEO of the New York Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, Lou Ellen Barkan, says having a family member with Alzheimer's is stressful no matter what time of the year.  

"The holidays for many families are an additional source of stress. We have guests, we have activities, we have traditional things that we are trying to do and in many ways, the way we remember our families did them."  

The Alzheimer's Association offers several tips to help families celebrate the holidays with their loved ones.  

Tips for Family Caregivers: 

1. Adjust expectations and discuss holiday celebrations with family and friends to make sure that they understand the situation.  It may not be practical to continue long-standing traditions such as large dinners.  Consider simplifying the occasion or asking someone else to host.  

2. Prepare guests who have not visited in a while for changes in the person's behavior and appearance. 

3. Involve the person with Alzheimer's in safe manageable activities. This can help to prepare the person for the holiday and give you an opportunity to spend quality time together.  You may want to begin by asking the person to help you prepare food, wrap packages, stuff holiday card envelopes, hang decorations or set the table.  

4. Build on past traditions and memories. For instance, the person with dementia may find comfort in singing old holiday songs.  

5. Be careful with holiday decorations.  Avoid using candies, artificial fruits/vegetables or other edibles as decorations.  Also, blinking lights may confuse the person with dementia.  

6. Try to maintain regular routines such as sleeping patterns, dinnertime or medication schedules, when possible.  

7. Limit and control overindulgence of rich or special holiday foods and drinks and avoid alcohol.  Too much rich food or drink may cause the person with Alzheimer's to become hyperactive or confused.  

8. Treat yourself well during the holidays.  Take advantage of the people who offer to help you.  Take some time for yourself.  


If you are visiting someone with Alzheimer's and his/her caregiver:

1. Call ahead before you visit.  Do NOT drop in unannounced.  Be flexible.  The unpredictable behaviors of some people with Alzheimer's may make last minute changes unavoidable.  

2. Speak directly to the person with Alzheimer's and do NOT talk about them to the caregiver while they are within listening distance.  

3. Make visits to the person with Alzheimer's short and quiet and limit the number of people who are visiting at one time.  

4. Remember the caregiver, even if you cannot visit during the holidays.  Telephone, send a note or find other ways to say, "I care.  I am thinking of you." 

5. Stay in touch with the caregiver when the holiday is over.  It may be easier for you, rather than the caregiver, to keep in touch.  


For more information about resources and programs for Alzheimer's go to