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Caring For A loved One During The Holiday Season

December 20, 2023

The DOs And DON’T’s For Families Who Have A Loved One With Dementia.

With the holiday season in full swing, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering tips to help the millions of Americans caring for a loved one with Dementia to celebrate the holidays with their loved one in a Dementia-friendly manner.

“People with Dementia can still, and should be encouraged to, enjoy and participate in the spirit of the holiday season. Because of the way Dementia-Related Illnesses impact the brain, they may not be able to do it exactly as they did prior to the onset of Dementia,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “By being adaptable and sensitive to the person’s needs and wishes, caregivers can help create a joyous, Dementia-friendly holiday season for their loved one with Dementia.”

AFA offers these dos and don’ts for creating a Dementia-friendly holiday season:

Do: Keep decorations simple. Decorating is part of the holiday season fun, however, too much stimulation may be challenging for someone with Dementia. Keep decorations festive, but simple. Instead of elaborate decorations, choose a few favorite items. Phase in decorations over a period of days so that changes to the person’s environment are less confusing.

Don’t: Over decorate or use dangerous decorations. Too many flickering lights or noisy items could overwhelm someone living with Dementia. Changes to the person’s environment might cause disorientation, which may then lead to wandering. Be aware of safety issues: fragile decorations can shatter into sharp fragments and decorations that look like food or candy could be mistaken for edible treats, creating a choking or dental hazard.

Do: Adapt past favorite traditions or create new and viable ones. Build on old traditions when appropriate, such as enjoying favorite music or movies, or looking at pictures of past holiday celebrations. Adapt past traditions as well; if the person always sent out holiday cards or baked holiday cookies and still wants to do so, do it together with them. If they can no longer shop for gifts for their loved ones, invite them to help with wrapping the gifts so that they feel involved. Start new traditions that center on activities and events the person enjoys and can do, such as touring neighborhood holiday lights; plan to do it together. Whenever possible, ask what traditions are important to your loved one—it keeps them engaged, and helps you prioritize and plan appropriately.

Don’t: Dwell on past practices. Take a strengths-based and person-centered approach and incorporate what the person can do and what they choose to do now, rather than dwelling on what they used to do. Focus on those things that bring joy and let go of activities that seem too stressful. It is normal to feel some sadness about changes and losses, especially during a holiday. Acknowledge these feelings and then move on to new ways to celebrate.

Do: Create a safe and calm space. Create a space where your loved one can sit comfortably during a holiday gathering, and where guests can visit in small groups or one-to-one. To the greatest extent possible, maintain the person’s normal routine when scheduling visits or holiday gatherings; disruptions in routine can be difficult for someone living with Dementia.

Don’t: Neglect safety. Be very mindful of potential tripping hazards on the floor, such as wires for decorations, as Dementia can cause changes in vision, depth perception, and gait. Securely hook Christmas Trees to the wall to avoid falls and use Menorahs or Kinaras with electric candles to reduce fire hazards.

Alzheimer’s Disease, which is the most common form of Dementia, affects more than 6 million Americans. The number of people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s Disease is expected to more than double by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The AFA Helpline is available seven days a week to help provide additional information about creating Dementia-friendly holidays or any other caregiving questions. Connect with a Licensed Social Worker by phone at: 1 (866) 232-8484. Via Web Chat: - Or Text Message: (646) 586-5283. The Web Chat and Text Message features can serve individuals in more than 90 different languages.

Holiday Gift Guide for People Living with Dementia
Holiday shopping and gift-giving can often be challenging, but even more so when shopping for a person living with dementia. Depending on the stage of disease, some well-intentioned gifts may no longer be appropriate or practical for the person.

For the holiday season, the Alzheimer's Association released its 2023 Holiday Gift Guide, offering gift ideas for individuals living in the early, middle and late stages of Alzheimer's Disease. The guide also includes gift suggestions aimed at keeping those living with Dementia engaged and involved in everyday tasks, as well as gift ideas for the 11 million family members and friends across the country serving as unpaid caregivers for these individuals.

5 gifts for people living with Alzheimer's - in the early stages

• Sticky notes or an erasable white board to list reminders or the day's activities.
• Baskets or trays that can be labeled within cabinets or drawers.
• Gift cards for ride-sharing services or a favorite activity (golf, movie, restaurant) allowing the person to remain active.
• GPS trackers (bracelets, watches, small trackers) or enrollment in a safe return program to keep the person safe.
• A "memory" calendar featuring family photos - write in special family occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.

5 gifts for people living with Alzheimer's - in the middle-to-late stages

• Music playlists that include the person's favorite artists or songs.
• Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that is easy to put on, remove and wash, such as sweat suits, slip-on blouses/shirts, non-slip socks, Velcro shoes, wrinkle-free nightgowns, nightshirts or a fluffy bathrobe.
• Framed photographs or a photo collage created specifically for your loved one. Insert the names of the people in the photos to help with identification.
• Soothing gifts that can help with anxiety like a handheld massage ball or a soft blanket.
• Adaptive dining equipment such as no-spill cups, plate guards and silverware with specifically designed handles that enables greater independence during meals.

5 gifts to help with everyday tasks and keep the person living with Alzheimer's engaged:

• A memory phone that can store pictures with the names and contact information of family and friends.
• Nightlights that activate automatically when it gets dark.
• A digital clock with large type to indicate date and time.
• An outing to a movie, play or concert, sporting event, museum or possibly an organized holiday shopping trip with friends and family.
• Engage your loved one in making homemade gifts for the family, painting ornaments, decorating stockings, table setting, scrapbooking or other activity gifts.

5 gifts for dementia caregivers

• The most important gift you can give a Dementia caregiver is the gift of time. In fact, just a 20-minute break each day can help lower a caregiver's stress and help avoid burnout.
• Self-made coupons for cleaning the house, cooking a meal, mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway.
• Gift cards and certificates for restaurants or meal delivery, laundry/dry cleaning services, lawn care services, computer/technology support, maid services, and personal pampering services such as massages and pedicures.
• Books - in addition to giving novels on the caregiver's "must read" list, there are a number of books on caregiving and maintaining self-health.
• Self-care items such as a bundle of personal care items (moisturizers, bath bombs and soaks, foot creams, scrubs, soaps).

For more tips on how families affected by Alzheimer's and other dementias can safely enjoy time with family and friends during the holidays, visit the Alzheimer's Association website. The Alzheimer's Association provides information, programs and services at no charge to help families facing Alzheimer's Disease or another Dementia. For additional information, visit: - Or call the FREE 24-hour Helpline at: 1 (800) 272-3900.

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