When Your Loved One Has Alzheimer’s: How to Celebrate the Holidays
For a loved one with Alzheimer’s, what you need is a plan to help you manage the holidays — and everyone’s expectations.
If you have a loved one with memory loss, you’re not alone: every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, more than 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to reach a staggering 14 million people.
But knowing the statistics doesn’t make it any easier to face the holidays with a loved one who is grappling with Alzheimer’s associated cognitive changes.
- Prepare your guests in advance. Before you start preparing the turkey and all the trimmings (or a vegetarian version of the holiday meal, if that’s your preference), prepare friends and family for the changes they’ll encounter in your senior loved one. As Alzheimer’s advocate Maria Shriver shared at her Kensington conversation in October, understanding the risks and causes of Alzheimer’s — which affects women disproportionately to men — is the first step in eradicating this brain scourge. And this means talking about it.
Everyone who will be at your holiday table needs to be aware of your loved one’s memory loss, and the changes they can expect to experience. In fact, informing people may inspire someone in your circle who may be having issues to get a health check-up. While Alzheimer’s is not yet curable, early detection enables people to make lifestyle changes that can slow or possibly even reverse cognitive decline.
- Plan reasonably. Maybe the gang has always gathered at your house for the holidays — and maybe this is no longer viable, given your additional responsibilities to care for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. Perhaps you can scale back the celebration by inviting fewer guests, or turn the event into a potluck, asking those who will participate to bring a vegetable dish or dessert offering. Most people want to help in ways that are feasible for them. If you know a relative or friend who will be coming is not a cook, assure them a store-bought pie or side dish is perfectly okay!
- Host a brunch or lunch in lieu of dinner. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia may experience sundown syndrome, a state of confusion, often accompanied by agitation, which occurs in late afternoon and evening. Holidays often have celebrations later in the day, but may not be best for one affected by Alzheimer’s associated sundowning. To avoid sundowning, you may want to hold your celebration earlier in the day, when it’s light outside. If it’s a rainy or snowy day with darkened skies, be sure to have a brightly lit room for the gathering. This will help your loved one to feel calmer. It’s a good idea to limit their caffeine and sugar intake as well.
- Stick to the tried-and-true. This is not the year to experiment with a new recipe, or decide to go vegan if you’ve always made a traditional holiday meal. It’s perfectly fine to prepare a special dish if one of your guests does not eat meat, or is allergic to something you’re cooking, but maintaining a regular routine will be more soothing to your loved one with memory loss than too much change. Cherished recipes, familiar smells, and perhaps singing favorite holiday songs can support your loved one — and maybe even bring back happy memories.
- Celebrate where you are. Does your loved one live at The Kensington Sierra Madre now, in one of our memory care neighborhoods? Set aside time to come visit during the holiday season. The ideal time might be for our Holiday Open House, where you can enjoy a scrumptious buffet, entertainment, holiday shopping, and much more!
A Happier Holiday Brain
You can also help your loved one with Alzheimer’s keep their brain healthy, not only during the holidays but every day, by engaging in cognitive-positive activities. And if one of your guests is a special favorite of your loved one with memory loss, this can be a dual benefit: a brain booster that also keeps your loved one happily engaged during the gathering.
- Make a game of it. Jigsaw puzzles, card games, Monopoly or Scrabble: whatever your senior loved one enjoys most can be modified as necessary so they can still enjoy playing. Board games are one of the most stimulating leisure activities for seniors, because they promote new experiences, boost cognition, create pleasure, and can be played among any number of participants, including children.
- Share a story. The children at your holiday celebration may especially enjoy reading some holiday classics such as Frosty the Snowman to Grandma or Grandpa, which will allow your senior loved one to reminisce. They might even spontaneously start sharing a story from a past holiday with you.
- Work it out. Many people eat too much and nap after a holiday gathering. However, it’s healthier to take a walk, either before or after eating. In fact, if there’s an exercise enthusiast sharing your home over the holidays, suggest he or she and your loved one engage in some exercise together. Studies show a positive link between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Buddy up. Include your senior loved one in holiday preparations as much as possible. Feeling like they still play an active role in the family and in social gatherings goes a long way towards improving anyone’s mental outlook. If you bake cookies, for example, enlist your loved one to help decorate them. Or when set the table, ask him or her to put the napkins at each place setting.
Holiday Love at The Kensington Sierra Madre
At The Kensington, we treat every day as a holiday by providing the highest quality service, food, care, attention, and love to each of our residents.
The son of one memory care resident shared:
“The Kensington Sierra Madre continually goes above and beyond all of our expectations. My mother recently moved in and it has literally changed her life… all of our lives. Seeing her smile again was my family’s top priority. We never expected to see her dancing again — but that she does. I give The Kensington 5 stars not only because our mother is safe and happy, but because the staff is amazing.”
We invite you to stop by soon, and let us welcome you to The Kensington family.