For Families Living with Dementia: Five Tips to Happier Holidays

The holidays are upon us, conjuring images of happy family celebrations filled with love, laughter and memory making. While that idyll likely doesn’t match reality for many people, it can seem even farther out of reach for families living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

And that’s a lot of families. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one in nine Wisconsin residents over age 65 has Alzheimer’s disease. That number jumps to one in three for people age 85 and older.

For all the families that live those numbers, the key to happy holidays is to keep things simple—which isn’t bad advice for any family during the holidays.

#1 Stick close to the person’s routine. Daily routines help people with Alzheimer’s feel more comfortable whereas mixing things up can induce confusion and anxiety. If possible, celebrate in a setting familiar to the person with Alzheimer’s, and keep visitors to a minimum.

#2 Aim for quiet, slow-paced celebrations. Music and animated conversation can be difficult for people with Alzheimer’s. If your holiday appears too lively for your loved one, be certain to provide a place where he can rest, away from the excitement.

#3 Keep decorations to a minimum. Bright lights and shiny objects can disorient people with Alzheimer’s. Also keep safety in mind and skip the candles.

#4 Prepare guests. If your guests haven’t seen the person with Alzheimer’s in a while, be sure to inform them ahead of time about what to expect with your loved one.

#5 Involve the person. Familiar holiday songs and photos of Christmases past may bring comfort and perhaps a little joy to your loved one. And if wrapping presents or making cookies is part of your tradition with the person who has Alzheimer’s, include her in those activities to the extent she is able.

However you adapt your holiday celebration, try to remember what matters most. You’ll likely find it’s not the presents, the food and the parties—though those create wonderful memories—it’s really about being together with the people you love. Even Alzheimer’s can’t change that.