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Alzheimer’s and Coping with the Holidays

The holiday season is often a time that many of us look forward for visiting and reconnecting with family and friends. Sometimes, however, this season can be sad or stressful for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These hints are our gift in wishing you an enjoyable holiday season.

Holidays can be meaningful, enriching times for both the person with Alzheimer’s disease and their family. Maintaining (or adapting) old family rituals and traditions helps all family members feel a sense of belonging and family identity. For a person with AD, this link with a familiar past is reassuring and builds self-esteem, i.e. “Look at the beautiful family I created!”

Learn to set your own limits early, and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of friends or relatives. Your situation is different now.

It may help to encourage family and friends to visit, even if it’s painful for them. Keep the number of persons visiting at one time to a minimum, or try a few people visiting quietly with the person with AD in a separate room. Most people with AD can pull it together for brief periods, if they have adequate private rest in between.

Try some simple holiday preparation with the person with Alzheimer’s disease  several days ahead. Just observing your preparations will familiarize him/her with the upcoming festivities; if they participate with you, they experience the pleasure of helping and giving as well as the fun of anticipation and reminiscing.

It may help to prepare potential quiet distractions (a family photo album or a simple repetitive chore like cracking nuts) to use if the person with AD becomes upset or over-stimulated. Over-stimulation can be a common concern amongst people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Try to avoid situations that further confuse or frustrate many people with AD:

  • crowds of people who expect the person with AD to remember them
  • noise, loud conversations or loud music
  • strange or different surroundings
  • changes in light intensity – too bright or too dark
  • over-indulgence in rich or special food or drink (especially alcohol)
  • change in regular routine and sleep patterns

Try to avoid scheduling activities — especially outdoor exercise — early in the day to avoid the fatigue from added activity at the end of a long day. Familiar holiday music, story-telling, singing or church services (even on TV) may be especially enjoyable.

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If you receive invitations to holiday celebrations which the person with AD cannot attend, consider going yourself. Enjoy the chance to be with friends and family who love you and enjoy your company, with or without your relative.

Preparing Your Guests Visiting the Person with Alzheimer’s

  1. Explain as clearly as possible what has happened to the person with AD. Give examples of the unusual behaviors that may take place: incontinence, eating food with fingers, wandering, hallucinations.
  2. Explain that it may not be appropriate behavior but the person with AD has a memory loss and does not remember what is expected and acceptable.
  3. Remind the visitor through phone calls or letters to be understanding and not to shun the person with AD.
  4. If this is the first visit since the person with AD became severely impaired, tell the visitor the visit may be painful. The memory-impaired person may not remember the guest’s name or relationship.
  5. Explain that memory loss is the result of the disease and it is not intentional.
  6. Stress with the guests that what is important is the meaningfulness of the moment spent together and not what the person remembers.

Preparing the Memory-Impaired Person

  1. Begin showing a picture of the guest to the person with Alzheimer’s disease a week before the arrival.
  2. Spend more time each day explaining who the visitor is while showing the picture.
  3. Arrange a phone call for the person with AD and the visitor. The conversation may help both. The call gives the visitor an idea what to expect and gives the memory-impaired person an opportunity to familiarize him/herself with the visitor.
  4. Keep the memory-impaired person’s routine as close to normal as possible.
  5. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, guard against fatigue and find time for adequate rest.
Alzheimer’s and Coping with the Holidays

National Institute on Aging

APA Reference
on Aging, N. (2018). Alzheimer’s and Coping with the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.