Holiday Tips for Caregivers

“Memory Matters” for ALL Ages  Link to program

When a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, the holidays can be overwhelming for all involved. Planning ahead and knowing some strategies including modifying traditions when needed can help families to enhance the time spent together with reduced stress.

One of the things I chose to do was to go home and spend time with my mom before and during the Christmas holidays. It was evident that with her hearing loss and some increased memory concerns that a move to an assisted living might need to be considered.
There were a lot of family activities going on and having someone who could be with her one on one during that time made it less stressful for her. It is one of the best decisions I made. Spending quality time with her during those years when some of our Christmas traditions needed to be modified are memories I will always cherish.

Some things to think about:
1. Holidays are very hectic, routines are constantly being interrupted and this is often the time that you will see some changes with one of your parents, grandparents or a close friend.
2. With all the planning for meals, decorations, house guests, and gatherings, an older adult may find it too much to handle but not always speak up about what they might need or what they are feeling. This is also a time of year when family dynamics kick in at some point and can present its own set of challenges even under normal circumstances.
3. Often there is information overload and a lot more people coming and going. When a person has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia these are typical triggers for increased anxiety which can lead to possible confusion, withdrawal or increased agitation and memory concerns.
4. Often referrals increase after the holiday season for a geriatric assessment or discussions begin within the family that perhaps a different living arrangement is needed. There may be a need for increased supervision or additional help in the home.
5.  When travel is involved there are many things to be considered and my suggestion is you refer to the article and numerous blogs on preparing for upcoming celebrations. There is detailed information on a wide variety of situations. Being proactive can be very helpful when it comes to celebrations, holidays and travel.

Tips to consider:
1. Preserving traditions is often important but be open to changing them to accommodate the person with hearing, vision, speech, memory or cognitive as well physical changes. The key is to meet them at the level they are currently functioning to reduce stress and increase participation. Remember instead of enlarging the experiences, spread it out and enjoying moments here and there.
2. Take turns accompanying the older adult so you also get to enjoy your holidays. Be on alert if the older adult is tired or starting to get anxious and have a backup plan. When the activity level was too much for my mom, I took her to another room and put on the television to some holiday program. We were not watching it but it allowed us to just detach from what was tiring her so she could get a break.
3. Think of a backup plan ahead of time and discuss who wants to help out. Remember that not everyone may be seeing the situation as you do. It is a good idea to decide on a plan ahead of time with a person who understands the reason for the shift away from the routine and can help with any unexpected issues.

Think ahead to what modifications might be helpful. Read some of the resources listed above for holidays that pertain to your situation and share with others.

“Opportunities are often things you haven’t noticed the first time.” Catherine Deneuve

Further resources: Gift ideas and products to enhance time spent together including reminiscence puzzles and conversation starters. Click here for more ideas about CREATING TIME WELL SPENT.

Link to “Memory Matters” for ALL Ages  cable television show: Holiday Tips for Caregivers

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters ( and Communication Connection( She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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