Getting ready for the holidays when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s

December 7, 2017

The time is upon us once again to be thinking and planning ahead for the holidays. For so many of us, this is a stressful time of year even before taking into consideration our caregiving responsibilities. Large gatherings of family and friends can also be stressful and overwhelming for the person who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

All too often we put pressure on ourselves to keep all the family traditions going, and to make sure everything is as perfect and “normal” as possible. This is an unfair expectation to put on yourself and your loved one. If there is ever a time to practice some self-care and grace toward yourself, this is it.

Simplifying Your Holiday Traditions

Instead, we encourage you to begin thinking about how some of your favorite traditions might be simplified and/or modified. In Jolene Brackey’s book, Creating Moments of Joy, she recommends making a MUST LIST and SHOULD LIST.

For example, I MUST buy gifts for my children. I SHOULD bake some holiday treats, but I COULD buy them at a local bakery.

If you feel strongly that you MUST prepare the turkey, could others bring the trimmings? It is not easy to ask for help, but family and friends often want to offer assistance and are not sure what they can do practically. They might just appreciate knowing how they can help you! If you’re going to someone else’s home and usually bring your homemade apple pie, could you give yourself permission to buy it this year? (Yes, you can!)

Navigating Family Gatherings

It is important to keep in mind that people with dementia can get more anxious and agitated than the rest of us, especially when there’s a lot of external stimulation.

Large gatherings might not be the best setting for your loved one. If this is the only option, however, you might consider making the visit short and sweet. If family is gathering in your home, perhaps smaller groups could drop by at different times of the day.

Another option is to offer the individual with dementia a break from the external stimulation by asking a trusted family member to accompany him/her to a quiet space in the home. Often twenty or thirty minutes to decompress before rejoining the festivities can be helpful for your individual.

Practicing Self-Care

Lastly, treat yourself well during the holidays. It is important to help your family and friends to understand that your situation is different now. You may have to say “no,” or “we just can’t right now, but how about after the New Year,” and “thank you so much for understanding.” If at all possible, schedule some things for yourself that are restorative, whether it is taking a nap or a walk around the neighborhood.

We wish you and your family a peaceful and blessed holiday season. And, should you need support during the holiday season, we encourage you to call (202) 895-9448, and ask for our Helpline or email 

By Sharon O’Connor

With more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare field and a primary focus on senior care, Sharon expertly leads Iona’s compassionate Wellness & Arts Center team. Prior to joining Iona’s staff in 2010, Sharon served as an associate executive director in the assisted living arena. Under her leadership, the Wellness & Arts Center has earned a Dementia Program of Distinction Award from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. She also facilitates support groups for older adults and their family members. Sharon holds a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.