By Gina Impagnatiello, a Caregiver Homes Assistant State Director in Mass. 

As we begin to approach the holiday season, it’s a good time to begin to think about how you might approach the holidays differently now that you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Diseaseor dementia, or for someone you’ve cared for some time who now has some progressing of symptoms. 

The holiday season means many different things to all of us. It can be a time of faith, cultural and family traditions, parties and family gatherings, travel and culinary delights. It tends to be the time of year in which many of us go “all out” with planning, shopping, cooking, and decorating. All of the hustle and bustle, and need to get everything done – while still working, parenting and caring for a loved one – can easily overwhelm a person and be very stressful.People who have Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia are going to be particularly sensitive during all of this increased activity and disruption to their normal routine. They can be very easily overstimulated by doing too much, being around large groups of people, noise, lights and or flashing decorations, etc. This overstimulation can both exhaust and frighten them which can lead to increased behavioral issues. 

In thinking about how you might have a successful holiday season with your loved one this year you may want to consider these seven tips: 

  • Keeping to their daily routine as much as possible
  • Consider whether traveling, especially long distances, is something that your loved one can tolerate. Can they negotiate a loud, busy, airport or train terminal? A busy airport might easily upset or frighten someone with cognitive impairment. Will they be able to go through security without becoming upset? Can they tolerate the time it will take you to get to your destination?
  • When decorating your home consider whether your loved one might misinterpret or be frightened by flashing lights, items that make noise, or decorations that may get confused with real people or animals. Keep rooms well lit for safety.
  • In planning a family gathering in your home or attending one elsewhere, it is a good idea to talk to your guests ahead of time about your loved one to help them feel comfortable and to set reasonable expectations.
  • Consider how large a gathering will be and how long it should last. While tradition may have been that you fill your home with all 60 of your relatives, and all of their children for an all day or night event, this may be way too much for your loved one to manage. Consider scaling back in these areas, and provide opportunity for them to rest or have a quiet area.
  • The time of day for an event is important to consider as well. If your loved one normally has increased behaviors later in the day, host your celebration as a brunch or luncheon rather than a dinner.
  • Involve your loved one in the festivities in ways in which they can be successful and still feel part of the season. For example, if Mom used to do all the baking but is no longer able to manage these things, maybe she can help mix the ingredients, or roll out the dough, or frost the cake. Maybe your loved one can still help with setting the table, wrapping gifts (even if they are not done to perfection), decorating the home or singing/listening to Christmas carols or religious hymns. Alternately, looking at old photo albums may allow them to reminisce and share stories.