Alzheimer’s and Holiday Celebrations

Nov. 8, 2022

For most families, holidays are filled with opportunities for togetherness, sharing, laughter and memories. However, due to the changes he or she has experienced, a person with Alzheimer's may experience a sense of loss during the holidays. At the same time, caregivers may feel overwhelmed by trying to maintain holiday traditions. They may also be hesitant to invite loved ones over to share the holiday out of fear that they will be uncomfortable with behavior changes in the family member.

Adjust Expectations

Feeling guilty, angry or frustrated before, during or after holiday celebrations are normal for family members who have a loved one with Alzheimer's disease. Here are some suggestions that may help ease the burden of caregiving and make the holidays more memorable.

  • Discuss holiday celebrations with relatives and close friends. Coordinate a face-to-face meeting or arrange for a long-distance telephone or video call to discuss major holiday celebrations. Make sure that family members understand the situation and have realistic expectations. By discussing past celebrations, you may be able to agree on how you will handle upcoming holidays.
  • Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. No one can expect you to maintain every holiday tradition or event. If you have always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider inviting only five for a simple meal. Also, consider asking others to bring dishes for a potluck meal or to host the meal at their home.
  • Make others aware of the situation. Familiarize others with your situation by writing a letter to help them understand the current situation so they know what to expect when they arrive.

Involve the Person with Alzheimer's Disease

  • Throughout all stages of preparation, involve the person in safe, manageable activities. This can help to prepare the person for the holiday and give you an opportunity to spend quality time together. You may want to begin slowly by asking the person to help you prepare food, wrap presents, hang decorations or set the table. Avoid using candies, artificial fruits, vegetables or other edibles as decorations. Avoid blinking lights as well, as this can overwhelm him or her.
  • Maintain the person's normal routine so that holiday preparations do not become disruptive or confusing. Remember that taking on too many tasks at one time can wear on you and the person, so take it slow.
  • Build on past traditions and memories. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs, for example. However, feel free to experiment with new holiday traditions, such as streaming or renting seasonal movies and shows.

Adapt Gift Giving

  • Encourage people to bring useful gifts for the person such as an identification bracelet (available through the Safe Return Program), comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing, favorite music, videos of family members and photo albums.
  • Warn people about difficult or unsafe gifts. Advise people not to bring dangerous tools or instruments, utensils, challenging board games, complicated electronic equipment or pets.
  • Allow the person to join the gift-exchange. For example, someone who once enjoyed cooking may enjoy baking cookies and packing them in tins or boxes. Or, you can buy the gift and have the person to wrap it.
  • Do not neglect your own needs. If friends or family members ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate to a restaurant, laundry or dry cleaner or cleaning service. If you do not receive these gifts, celebrate the holiday by giving such a gift to yourself.
  • Ask for help and support. Develop a bulletin board for listing tasks and responsibilities. If someone asks, “What can I do to help?“ you can respond with a specific idea. Try to be flexible.
  • Consider celebrating over a lunch or brunch, rather than an evening meal, to work around the evening confusion or sundowning that sometimes affects those people with Alzheimer's. Also, consider serving non-alcoholic drinks and keeping the room well-lit.
  • Prepare to deal with the post-holiday blues. You may want to arrange for in-home care so you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend and reduce post-holiday stress.
  • Remember that holidays are opportunities to share time with the people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with Alzheimer's disease so you can all concentrate on enjoying your time together.


Reprinted courtesy of the Alzheimer's Association.
For more information, contact the Alzheimer's Association:

©2022 ComPsych ® Corporation. All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only. It is always important to consult with the appropriate professional on financial, medical, legal, behavioral or other issues. As you read this information, it is your responsibility to make sure that the facts and ideas apply to your situation.