By Tina Antonucci, Dementia Care Specialist


It’s going to be O.K.  Here are some tips that will help you through the holiday season if you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.  The first step is to breathe.  Make sure you put your health first and don’t forget to breathe.  Meditation and prayer are also great ways to reduce stress and keep you focused on the task at hand.


Safety is at the top of my list. Whether you are visiting a loved one in a facility or you are planning on taking a loved one home from a facility, safety should be on the top of your priority list.  If you are planning on taking a loved one home for the holidays please make sure your environment is safe.  There are professionals that can assist with this or you can simply look at the Alzheimer’s Associations website for a free printout of a home safety checklist.  Also think about gift giving.  Some gifts may be dangerous or harmful to someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.  For example, a bottle of cologne might not be the best gift as someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia might drink it.  A complicated electronic device will only set your loved one up for failure.  Think about things they might need like a nice new comfy outfit.  Or you might want to go directly to stores that specialize in Alzheimer’s and Dementia products.  I like the Alzheimer’s Store, .  If you are visiting someone in a facility you may also want to keep safety in the back of your mind.  Think about what guests visiting might be bringing in for your loved one.  If its food, make sure it complies with their diet.  You might also think about how many people will be visiting.  Overstimulation can lead to a confused resident and might contribute to problem behaviors.  When I was a Memory Director I remember this one family showing up on a holiday with over 15 people.  There were aunts, uncles, cousins, babies, even a dog.  The family was confused when the resident threw them all out screaming “get out of my house.”  There were just simply too many unfamiliar faces and it became an overwhelming situation.  Set yourself up for success and visit in small groups, 2-3 at the most.  If you have a large family that would like to visit, plan separate small visits at different times.  Talk to your Program Director and see when you might be able to visit during a Holiday craft or party. Make your visit safe and meaningful.


Change in routine may lead to problem behaviors as well.  It is always best to ask the care staff when the best time to visit is.  If you are planning on taking your loved one home for the holiday make sure you find out what their daily routine is.  Ask the nurse to give you a copy of their personal care plan or you can ask the Program Director to help you create a plan based on their daily routine. Be sure to remember breaks and naps as this is important to overall wellbeing.


Sounds simple but you would be surprised at how many arguments I have broken up, yes/no battles, rational or logical explanations, and loud debates.  Remember that arguing with a person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia will get you nowhere.  You will only end up causing yourself and your loved one unnecessary stress.  Always use a calm tone of voice when speaking to someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.  Be aware of verbal and non-verbal threatening behavior.  A calm soothing voice ensures a sense of comfort and safety and may defuse a tense situation.


If you are visiting a facility with family that has not seen your loved one in a long time fill them in on your loved ones condition.  Remember that someone living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia reacts to your emotions.  If you are taking your loved one home for the holiday, the same rule applies.  Let your guests know what’s going on and educate them on the disease.  Don’t be afraid to ask guests to follow the guidelines you set up.  Talk to them about approach.  Make sure you have a quiet space available so that if your loved one becomes overwhelmed or overstimulated they have a safe space to call their own.   A fenced in yard will work well so they can walk around or a quiet room with photo albums of loved ones that will give them a sense of security.  If your loved one tries to exit seek, have one of the guests take them for a short walk around the neighborhood, as you should react to their emotions, not their behaviors.  This is a natural way to reduce anxiety and restlessness caused by overstimulation.


Enjoy quality time with your loved one.  If your loved one lives in a facility, ask for the activity calendar and join in on something special.  You may want to volunteer to run a class or share a home video with the group.  If your taking your loved one home make sure you spend quality time and make activities purposeful and meaningful.  Gift wrapping is a great activity for someone with Alzheimer’s and Dementia but supervision is strongly recommended.  I once had my Ladies Club wrap small gifts we collected for a children’s choir that was visiting.  I made the mistake of putting out pretzels out while we were wrapping the gifts.  When the kids opened their gifts there were pretzel pieces wrapped in the gifts and crumbs everywhere. The kids got gifts and snacks in one package! Baking cookies is another great activity.  The smell of fresh baked cookies often brings back good memories but remember focus on the quality of time spent together not the outcome of the baked goods…lol!


To make the holidays enjoyable focus on long term memory recall not short term. For example, when visiting with your loved one don’t ask what they had for breakfast, ask about what their mom cooked for the holidays.  The retention of new information is almost impossible for the person living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia but old memories are much more resistant.  Talk about old family traditions; bring out old family photo albums.


Incorporate music into the holidays!  With over 15 years running activities for Alzheimer’s and Dementia residents I have run many sing-alongs and musical programs.  I have always been surprised and taken back when even the lowest functioning resident on the unit is lip syncing the lyrics or is so provoked by the music that is stimulates old memories.  There has been so much said on the power of music and health that it would be crazy not to enjoy music this holiday season.


If all else fails, laugh.  Laughter is the best medicine.  It lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins, and it’s quite contagious.  Dealing with someone living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia can be stressful.  But remember its ok to laugh.  In fact I often made my residents laugh out loud before we started an activity.  This was contagious and often times we couldn’t stop!


Be proactive and make sure you are equipped with resources and phone numbers of people that can help if you are still struggling.  If you are visiting a loved one in a facility and are dealing with unresolved issues attend a local support group.  Most facilities now host these groups and you get to meet other family members that are going through the same thing.  If you are bringing your loved one home for the holiday make sure you have the nurse on calls phone number as well as local resources in case of an emergency.  The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour hotline available if you need support immediately, 1(800)272-3900.


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Caring People Home Healthcare Agency