The holiday season is here, and in addition to all the fun activities, so is the perennial stress. If you happen to also be caring for an adult with long-term illness, you (and she) may be feeling extra sensitive this time of year. Here are ways to help you and your loved one get more joy out of the holidays.

Gift Giving

The holidays offer an opportunity to give a gift to your loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. Not only is gift-giving a traditional expression of affection, it can also be a part of a reality therapy.  It brings attention to the fact that this day is a birthday or a holiday.  When choosing a gift, try to find something that stimulates the brain, exercises the hands, or excites the senses.

It is important to consider the stage she is in when selecting a present for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  In the earliest stages, gifts need not be different than what you might have given her before the diagnosis.  Games and activities should reflect her interests and challenge her to exercise her brain as well as her body.  As the condition progresses, activities should be less challenging, but should still reflect her interests and keep her involved.  Later stage gifts should revolve around providing comfort while stimulating the senses.  Remember, a gift that was appropriate when she was in the early stages of the disease will not hold her interest later; this is normal. Try to be flexible in your gifting and focus on what will bring joy to your loved one right now, instead of focusing on what she has typically enjoyed in the past.

More Helpful Holiday Tips

  • Plan events strategically. Time events to fit into your loved one’s normal routine and to take advantage of her (and your) best time of day.
  • Include music. Music, such as caroling, is an important part of the holiday tradition that can also elevate your loved one’s mood, and can typically be enjoyed even in later stages.
  • It’s okay to revise traditions. There are many ways to simplify holiday traditions to help your loved one and yourself, including abbreviating the length or number of events, shortening guest lists, or simplifying the menu from a full meal to dessert or even to a potluck-style gathering.
  • Simplify your own holiday shopping. Give gift cards, shop online, or give simple but meaningful gifts such as framed photos.
  • Talk to friends and family in advance. Let them know what daily life is like and what needs your loved one may have during out-of-home visits (e.g., ADA access for a wheelchair or walker, dietary needs, or a quiet space to retreat to when over-stimulated).
  • Ask for help. The holidays are the perfect time to let others know how they can help support you, the caregiver. Whether you need respite time, new clothes or personal items for your family member, help with chores around the house, or to turn holiday hosting duties over to someone else, your friends and family care about you and want to help.

We hope these tips help you make the most of the holidays—this year and all those to come! On behalf of all of us at MHAMT, we wish you a warm and wonderful season!