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Support & Insight for the Autumn of Life

Holiday Hints for Families Living with Alzheimer’s


Tips to help caregivers & people with dementia when visiting family, friends & neighbors during the holiday season.

Holidays can be meaningful, enriching times for both the person with Alzheimer’s disease and his or her family. Maintaining or adapting family rituals and traditions helps all family members feel a sense of belonging and family identity. For a person with Alzheimer’s, this link with a familiar past is reassuring. The tips below can help you and the person with Alzheimer’s visit and reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors during holidays.

Finding the Right Balance

Many caregivers have mixed feelings about holidays. They may have happy memories of the past, but they also may worry about the extra demands that holidays make on their time and energy.

Here are some ways to balance doing many holiday-related activities while taking care of your own needs and those of the person with Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Celebrate holidays that are important to you. Include the person with Alzheimer’s as much as possible.
  2. Set your own limits, and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of friends or relatives. Your situation is different now.
  3. Involve the person with Alzheimer’s in simple holiday preparations, or have him or her observe your preparations. Observing you will familiarize him or her with the upcoming festivities. Participating with you may give the person the pleasure of helping and the fun of anticipating and reminiscing.
  4. Encourage friends and family to visit even if it’s difficult. Limit the number of visitors at any one time, or have a few people visit quietly with the person in a separate room.
  5. Prepare quiet distractions to use, such as a family photo album, if the person with Alzheimer’s becomes upset or overstimulated.
  6. Try to avoid situations that may confuse or frustrate the person with Alzheimer’s, such as crowds, changes in routine, and strange places. Also try to stay away from noise, loud conversations, loud music, lighting that is too bright or too dark, and having too much rich food or drink (especially alcohol).
  7. Find time for holiday activities you like to do. If you receive invitations to celebrations that the person with Alzheimer’s cannot attend, go yourself. Ask a friend or family member to spend time with the person while you’re out.

Preparing Guests

Explain to guests that the person with Alzheimer’s disease does not always remember what is expected and acceptable. Give examples of unusual behaviors that may take place such as incontinence, eating food with fingers, wandering, or hallucinations.

  1. If this is the first visit since the person with Alzheimer’s became severely impaired, tell guests that the visit may be painful. The memory-impaired person may not remember guests’ names or relationships but can still enjoy their company.
  2. Explain that memory loss is the result of the disease and is not intentional.
  3. Stress that the meaningfulness of the moment together matters more than what the person remembers.

Preparing the Person with Alzheimer’s

Here are some tips to help the person with Alzheimer’s disease get ready for visitors:

  1. Begin showing a photo of the guest to the person a week before arrival. Each day, explain who the visitor is while showing the photo.
  2. Arrange a phone call for the person with Alzheimer’s and the visitor. The call gives the visitor an idea of what to expect and gives the person with Alzheimer’s an opportunity to become familiar with the visitor.
  3. Keep the memory-impaired person’s routine as close to normal as possible.
  4. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, guard against fatigue and find time for adequate rest.

SOURCE: The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, a service of the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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December 22, 2013 11:52 pm

My mom passed away this past august after a five year battle with Alzheimers and parkinson. Thankfully in 2011 she became her old self remembering everything, I was and still am very very greatfull. At our home which she was at until her very last breath, every holiday was celebrated in her room. My birthday is on Halloween and that day was very special for her! We all dressed up and the first piece of cake was for her! She was what I celebrated every day! She was bedridden those five years but that was no impairment for her to celebrate with us!!!! I tried to please her in everything she asked for up until her last moment, before her journey home! I have been blessed to have a friend accompany me and my mom throughout all this time, that for my mom she became her second daughter. My mom was first in everything, because I knew that her battle was going to take her away from me, so I took every moment in grace, and thanked her, kissed her,hugged her, told her how much I loved her, how much I thanked God for giving me her as my mom, bathe her with love and much caution, made her feel beautiful by putting on her favorite face cream "PONDS", and her favorite perfume…. She became my baby!, Being the only child and living in Puerto Rico where we don't have the help that is available in the United States, I tried to do the best I could, and at the end my HEART IS IN PEACE! – DO ON TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE DONE TO YOU! God bless!

Reply to  Unknown
December 24, 2013 9:06 am


November 22, 2015 8:20 am

This may sound crazy but I took my Granny to Transylvania.

After caring for my 94 year-old grandmother with latter stage dementia at home for two years, I relocated her four months ago to full care nursing home in Transylvania, Romania. I visited her everyday for the first two months in order to make sure everything was going to be fine. She has settled-in better than I could have imagined, she really enjoys her coloring and knitting. Now I’m back in the States and Skype with her regularly, not an easy decision for the family to make the move, however, in hindsight it was a better option than the “spend down” approach and lose the house. (Which is now rented and provides supplemental income for her.) The strain of taking care of her along with raising three kids under 10 years old was too much for us. The idea of selling the house and spending the money down to afford state care didn’t seem like a feasible option.

Here is what I found:
Room, Meals and Medications.
-$2250 – $2500 per month.
-24 patients 16 staff.
-24 hour care.
-Skype available.
-Video cameras in common areas.
-Food prepared on site (good food!)
-English Speaking Doctor, Nurses.
-Activities: Coloring, Painting, Crocheting,
-Music and Games.
-Modern newly constructed building completed with EU funding.
-Safe serene neighborhood, nice views.

Feel free to email me if you would like to know how we did it.

Maryan N Daily
Maryan N Daily
November 27, 2019 2:27 am

IT'S hard to believe that no one ever mentions holding celebrations earlier in the day to avoid the sundowner's problems. It is so much easier for both the care givers and patient! I have been telling my support group to do this for years – less stress for everyone.

B. Berger

B. Berger

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