Holidays and Gifts

Alzheimer’s disease affects every aspect of your family and community life.  Your holiday observances are no exception.  Holidays can be bittersweet for families affected by Alzheimer’s. The holiday season may bring mixed feelings and concerns about your loved one’s needs, his or her capacity to be involved in holiday festivities and your expectations for the experience.  Holiday memories from before your loved one developed Alzheimer’s may darken what usually is a joyful season.  Worries about how your loved one’s condition may disrupt your family’s plans and can overshadow the simple pleasure of being together.

Rather than dwelling on how much things have changed or worrying about what might go wrong, focus on making the holidays as enjoyable as possible.  Consider your loved one’s needs, but don’t forget about yourself.  These tips can make special times easier for everyone.

Preparing the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Talk about and show photos of the people who are coming to visit.
  • Play familiar holiday music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods.
  • Watch and/or help with decorations.
  • Persons with AD may recognize faces of family members and friends, but can’t recall their names – name tags may be helpful.
  • Have a “quiet” room if things get too hectic and have a familiar person stay with them so they don’t feel isolated or “left out”.
  • Prepare for distractions beforehand (i.e. use of a photo album) to divert attention if problem behaviors occur.

Preparing Visitors

  • Delegate tasks to family members to make your day easier.
  • Encourage them to visit, but to call ahead and arrange a good time to visit.
  • Have visitors come during the part of the day you know your loved one is at his/her best.
  • Familiarize visitors with behavior and condition changes of loved one with AD, so they will not be shocked by the appearance/behavior of the person.
  • Explain why you are limiting the length of the visit and the number of visitors.
  • Watch for signs of fatigues and alert family when it is time for them to leave.

Selecting Activities

  • Manage your expectations by not taking on too much and choosing a few activities that are the most important to you and your loved one.
  • Use past interests as a guide. When the activity is first introduced, if there is no interest, try again later.
  • Slow the pace of the activity to allow the person with AD to comprehend as well as enjoy the sensory pleasure from the activity.
  • Activity suggestions (based on ability to succeed and for satisfaction and safety): make ornaments; decorate tree; decorate cookies; package baked goods; polish silver or menorah; set table; wrap boxes; seal or stamp holiday cards; sing or listen to songs; enjoy photos, videos, slides of family and past holidays; stories; walks.

Preparing Your Home

  • Music and movies bring back your most cherished memories of the holidays, however, music that is too loud or vigorous may be unsettling to your loved one.
  • People with Alzheimer’s may become disoriented by blinking lights and by decorations that substantially change a familiar environment, so keep it simple.

Maintaining Safety

  • Create a clear pathway for walking; avoid wires, cords or throw rugs.
  • Use ribbon or yarn instead of sharp hooks to hang ornaments and decorations.
  • Avoid decorating with items that look edible.
  • Avoid confusing, blinking lights.
  • Do not leave lighted candles or fireplace unattended.
  • Use plastic or silk mistletoe rather than real ones; if eaten it is toxic.

Trust your instincts

Caregivers know best what their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease are capable of doing – and what agitates and upsets them.  Resist pressure to celebrate the way others may expect you to.  You can’t control the progress of Alzheimer’s or protect your loved one from all distress.  However, by planning and setting firm boundaries, you can avoid needless holiday stress and enjoy the warmth of the season.

Gifts for the Person with Alzheimer’s

Early Stage

Individuals may be aware of their problems and need gifts that will enhance independence and activity they can still enjoy.  Simple, but familiar games are good.  Tickets to a concert, musical, sporting event, or other events that they can handle are a good choice.  Frozen meals that can be reheated in the microwave are good, or a fruit basket.  Photo albums, or preparing a collage of old family photos is a meaningful gift.

Middle Stage

Since more assistance is needed and the attention span is shorter, try gifts that focus on the remaining abilities.  Men may like to do sorting and arranging or cutting.  Picture books containing movie stars, historical places, and nature books can enhance enjoyment.  Taped religious services and music from church services make special gifts.

Late Stage

Capacity to deal with anything complicated is diminished in the later stage, so comprehension and understanding is poor.  Memory books or boxes, made up of old photos and mementos that link a person to the past, is a good choice.  Visits from well-behaved animals might be enjoyed.  Lap robes and shawls and warm footwear are important since circulation is often poor.  Things to cuddle, such as stuffed animals, dolls, or pillows, may bring a sense of comfort.  Hand and body lotion along with a massage is always nice.


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