Helping those with Alzheimer’s enjoy the holidays

McLean and the Alzheimer’s Association of CT offer ideas and tips

to help ensure a happy holiday season for all.

 Hectic holidays can fluster anyone, but for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the noisy crowds, breaks in the routine and unfamiliar visitors can trigger extreme anxiety and spoil festivities for everyone. There are ways to help manage the holidays for those with Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers.

On Thursday, December 12, Patty O’Brian, regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association of CT presented a free seminar for caregivers, “Dementia Comes to Dinner. Managing the Holidays for those with Memory Loss” at The New McLean in Simsbury. During the presentation, Patty O’Brian offered ideas and tips to help everyone manage the holidays. “One of the most important things to do is understand the disease and where your loved one is in the process,” O’Brian began. “Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and knowing where your loved one is along the journey will help caregivers and families structure the holidays to create the most comfortable and enjoyable experience as possible.”

One of the most stressful activities during the holidays is entertaining. Having a lot of people around may make for a festive occasion, but can cause anxiety for the loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few helpful hints to make the person with memory loss more comfortable. Helpful hints:

• Show photos and talk about people who are coming to visit

• Maintain regular routines as much as possible

• Play familiar holiday music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods

• Have the person with memory loss participate in decorating by watching or helping

• Provide nametags for everyone coming to celebrate. The person with memory loss may recognize faces of family members but may not remember names

• Have a quiet room so the person with memory loss can have a place to go if overwhelmed.

Plan ahead and adapt if necessary. Making this holiday joyful for your loved one is more important than recreating past extravaganzas or meeting unrealistic expectations. If you have a loved one who lives in a long term care facility, there are still ways to celebrate the holidays.

If you are planning to visit your loved one in their facility:

• Plan to take part in the facility’s holiday celebration

• Plan visits earlier in the day – the best time to plan activities for those with memory loss is between              10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m

• Have family members visit in small numbers, not a large crowd

• Find a quiet place to visit, away from the bustle of the facility

• Planning a visit on a day near the holiday may work just as well or better than a visit on the actual holiday

• A walk around the facility can be a delightful way your loved one can show off their family and friends

• If the loved ones ability to converse is limited, they will still enjoy the company of a familiar face.

The feeling of knowing they are loved is the most special gift you can give to your loved one with memory loss. And of course, there are the gifts. One way to show your loved ones that you care about them around the holidays is by bringing gifts. But for those with Alzheimer’s, it is important to be mindful of the gifts you give, and you may want to adapt gift giving and gift opening to their abilities. “Some people with Alzheimer’s may have trouble opening wrapped gifts. Think about putting the gift inside a gift bag, which might be easier for them to open. And be prepared for a less than enthusiastic response or if you have to explain the purpose of the gift.” Patty also warns that the gifts may be declined or refused.

Here are some gift ideas for loved ones with memory loss: 

• Photo albums with pictures of family and friends. Make sure to label the photos with names and the relationship of the people in the pictures to the loved one with memory loss

• MP3 player filled with favorite music

• Costume jewelry

• Easy care, comfortable clothes

• Favorite cookies or candies

• Memory aids such as large clock, calendar, message board

• Puzzles or familiar games

• Indoor golf putter

• Throw blanket or other comfortable wraps

 • Gift certificates for hair cut, hairdo, manicure

• Purse or wallet • Cuddly stuffed toy or soft pillow

• Bird feeder Don’t forget about the caregiver.

Providing care for a loved one with memory loss can be a rewarding experience, it can also be exhausting and frustrating. Making sure that caregivers are supported throughout the holiday season is an important as structuring the holidays for those with memory loss.

Here are a few gift ideas for caretakers:

• “Because I care” coupons to provide respite, transportation or a lunch date

• Gift certificate for professional housekeeping

• Meals delivered

• Offer to run to the grocery store, dry cleaner or run other errands

• Membership to local health club or pool

 • Gift certificate to hair or nail salon or day spa

The holidays can be a wonderful, magical time. It can also be a time of anxiety and stress. But for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the holidays can pose a challenging time for both those with memory loss and their caregivers. Planning ahead and managing expectations can help ensure a happy holiday season for all.

Facts and figures*

• Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States

• More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease

• In 2012, 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care – valued at $216 billion

*Provided by the Alzheimer’s Association For more information on memory care programs and services at The New McLean, please call (860) 658-3700 or visit For more information on the Alzheimer’s Association of CT visit, or call the 24/7 hotline at 1-800-272-3900.