Memory Loss and the Holidays

The holidays may be a very stressful time for both those with memory loss and their caregivers.  While caregivers may look forward to holiday festivities, their loved ones may find the change in routine and additional activities overwhelming. The Alzheimer’s Association has developed 10 Holiday Survival Tips that may help families cope over the next few weeks.

#1–Planning can avoid holiday stress. Consider ahead of time what may be expected of you socially and emotionally.

  • Discuss holiday celebrations with relatives and close friends in advance.
  • Plan to maintain a regular routine while trying to provide a pleasant, meaningful, and calm holiday event.
  • Celebrate early in the day or have a noon meal rather than a late dinner since most people with memory loss have more energy and are less agitated earlier in the day.

#2–Take of yourself as a caregiver. Try to make celebrations easy on yourself and for your family member with memory loss so that you both can enjoy your time together.

  • Maintain a positive mental attitude.
  • Ask for help for you and your loved one.
  • Prepare to deal with post-holiday letdown. Take advantage of Among Friends respite care so that you can enjoy some time for yourself to reduce the after-the-holidays stress.

#3–Prepare your loved one for holiday family gatherings.  Preparing your family member for upcoming celebrations will allow you both to enjoy time family and friends.

  • Talk about and show photos of family members and friends who will be visiting.
  • Have a “quiet room” in case things get too hectic.
  • Play familiar music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods.
  • Schedule naps, especially if your family member usually takes naps.
  • Schedule family and friends visit times so that you can prepare your family member for the visit.

#4–Prepare family members and friends.  Be honest with your family and friends about your loved one’s condition to help avoid uncomfortable or harmful situations.

  • Familiarize your family and friends with behaviors and condition changes.
  • Recommend practical and useful gifts (see tip #7).
  • Remind family and friends about the best ways to communicate with your loved one (see tip #6).

#5–Involve everyone when selecting activities. Involve everyone–including your loved one with memory loss–in holiday activities.

  • Consider take walks, icing cookies, telling stories, doing chores, making a memory book or family tree, or keeping a journal.
  • To encourage conversation, place magazines, scrapbooks, or photo albums within reach. Play music to prompt dancing or other kinds of exercise.
  • Encourage young family members to participate in simple and familiar activities with your family member.

#6–Communicate with success.  Memory loss can diminish a person’s ability to communicate. These tips may help.

  • Be calm and supportive if the person has trouble communicating.
  • Speak slowly in a relaxed tone.
  • Avoid criticism or correction. For example, when someone forgets a recent conversation, avoid saying, “Don’t you remember?”
  • Address the person by name.
  • Be patient and flexible, and don’t argue with your loved one.

#7–Smart gift giving.

  • Encourage family and friends to give useful, practical gifts for your loved one such as an ID bracelet (available through Medic Alerts and Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return). Other gifts may include comfortable easy-to-remove clothing, CDs of favorite music, videos, and photo albums.
  • Advise others to avoid gifts such as dangerous tools or instruments, utensils, challenging board games, complicated electronic equipment, or pets.
  • If possible, involve your loved one in giving gifts. If she once enjoyed cooking, she may enjoy baking cookies, or buy a gift and allow him to wrap it.

#8–Safe environment in the home. Because a person with memory loss may experience changes in judgment, he or she may become confused or frustrated. These tips may reduce the risk of injury  and confusion.

  • Assign a “buddy” to watch out for your family member to ensure their comfort.
  • Arrange ample space for walking side-by-side, for wheelchairs, or for walkers. Keep walking areas clear.
  • Consider seating options so that your family member can best focus on conversation and be least distracted.
  • Don’t serve your family member alcohol, which may interact with medications and lead to inappropriate behavior.
  • Accommodate changes in vision. Place contrasting-color rugs in front of doors or steps. Avoid dark-colored rugs that may appear to be “holes.”
  • Limit access to places where injuries could occur such as a kitchen or stairwell. And check temperatures of food and drinks.
  • Create an even level of lighting. Avoid using candles, artificial fruits or vegetables, or other edibles in decorations.
  • Supervise your loved one in taking medicine.
  • Keep emergency phone numbers and a list of medications handy.

#9–Travel wisely.  A few precautions may make the holidays safer for you and your loved one.

  • Never leave your loved one alone.
  • Use familiar modes of transportation and avoid peak travel times.
  • Keep plans simple and maintain daily routines as much as possible.
  • Allow extra time to avoid the stress of rushing.
  • Advise service and hospitality staff that you are traveling with someone with memory loss and tell them about the person’s behavior and special needs.
  • Arrange for services, such as wheelchairs, ahead of time.
  • Provide identification items such as a Medic Alert or Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return bracelet and clothing labels.

#10–Reliable sources of support.  Families can call the Alzheimer’s Association a 727-578-2558 or the 24-hour Helpline at 1-800-772-8672 to answer questions about warning signs and to assist persons with dementia and their caregivers. The Helpline is open Christmas Day and New Year’s Day as well as year round.





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