Navigating the Holidays with Early Onset Alzheimer’s & Memory Conditions

holiday1For all the joy of the holidays, they can be one of the most stressful times for the person with early onset Alzheimer’s/memory conditions and their care partner.   Holidays bring together large groups of people, presents, lights, Christmas caroling, yet all of these wonderful traditions can be over-stimulating for people with the disease and their care partners.

Share these ideas with family and friends that will be spending time with your loved one during the holiday season.  As difficult as it can be to change life-long holiday traditions, it will be important for others to adapt to the needs of your loved one. 

This can be a very stressful and bittersweet time, but hopefully with some of these modifications, the holidays can bring love, support, and create cherished memories. 

  • As the care partner, you know your loved one best and know what will bring them comfort and what will cause fear and stress.   Communicate this to your family and friends, including younger children.
  • Large groups of people can over-stimulate the person with early onset Alzheimer’s/memory conditions, so consider having several smaller gatherings.   By extending the celebration, there can be more interaction for the person with the disease.  
  • Traveling can be especially difficult.   Large crowds and unfamiliar surrounds can bring on added stress and anxiety.   Please keep in mind that as the disease progresses, being in their home around familiar surroundings is vital to their sense of security.  Be realistic that traveling to holiday gatherings may no longer be possible; family and friends may need to come to them.
  • Make sure to educate your family and friends on the proper communication techniques for your loved one. 
  • Consider adjusting meal times to best meet the needs of the person with the disease.
  • If your loved one is in a long-term care facility, coordinate visits so that they can be spread out over a day or two.  Find out if family members and friends can be part of the holiday festivities at the facility.  Also, some facilities have private dining/meeting rooms where your family could gather for a private celebration.
  • Holiday decorations can be one of the most exciting elements of the holiday season; but they can also cause increased confusion, anxiety, and safety issues for the person with the disease.  Limit the amount of decorations.  Consider using a plastic tree, use electric candles to avoid fire hazards, and be aware of where electrical cords are placed so that your loved one does not trip and fall. 
  • Create activities around some of your loved one’s favorite memories or traditions.  Look through photo albums, decorate holiday cookies, listen to holiday music, and give handmade gifts.
  • As the care partner, surround yourself with support.  Ask friends and family members to help you—whether it’s going to the grocery store for you or coming to sit with your loved one so you can have a break—you need to take care of yourself.  This could also be a good opportunity to join a support group so that you can share your feelings and experiences with others that understand what you are going through.

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