12/24/2014 07:52 am ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Alzheimer's And The Holidays: 15 Tips For Celebrating Smoothly

Cards, calendars and crackers, the holidays can be stressful for Alzheimer's caregivers: The Survivor's Action Plan.

Demands increase during the holidays, while resources -- personal and financial -- may be in shorter supply. Here are the insiders' tips to help you navigate the season, keep your balance, manage expectations-and really enjoy the celebrations, however modest, with your loved one. The scorecard? Keep it simple; Keep it light; Keep your cool. Here goes!...

Keep it simple:

1. Reduce expectations. Instead of trying to maintain all of the traditions your family usually observes, accept that the holidays will be different than in the past. Focus on creating a warm and supportive atmosphere for the AD person, and look for ways to streamline your celebrations.

2. Limit holiday gatherings to smaller numbers. Large gatherings, with their hubbub and lack of predictability can be upsetting for the AD person. Consider having more but smaller events, with fewer numbers, and asking family and friends to take on some of the hosting duties.

3. Ask the person with AD, in advance, which key traditions are important to them, or are most comforting. Sitting by the tree with hot drinks, singing or exchanging old stories may be more enjoyable than a large sit-down meal.

4. Reduce sensory stimulation. Blinking lights, loud music, a television in the background, several different conversations at once and other distractions may lead to frustration and distress for the AD person.

5. If the person with AD lives in a facility, consider creating a special holiday meal for them in the building, rather than asking them to travel. It is often possible to decorate a table with personal items and either bring in a meal the person especially enjoys or dress up a meal provided by the facility with special desserts and other extras.

Keep it light:

1. Holiday traditions can be onerous at the best of times. Modify or replace them with new ones: For instance, scale back on gift giving and wrapping. Consider fewer items under the tree, perhaps on a simple theme, such as food or handicrafts; the shift may be welcomed by the whole family.

2. Large, sit-down, multi-course meals can take days to plan and execute. Consider a buffet-style meal: you can prepare a plate for the AD person and allow others to help themselves. Consider buying some items, to reduce preparation time.

3. If children are present, involve them with the AD person. They might take turns sitting and chatting with the person, in a pre-arranged plan. Review some topics they can discuss, to get them started. The conversation will be simple and light-hearted, often what the AD person prefers.

4. Position the AD person so they can easily hear and respond to what others are saying. Ask your guests in advance to look and speak directly to the person, one at a time. This will help the person feel connected to the gathering.

5. Older memories may be more available to the AD person than recent events. Ask guests to come prepared with a story or two that is likely to remind the AD person of pleasant memories of the past. Be flexible; be sensitive to topics the AD person may raise and take your cue from them.

Keep your cool:

1. No one can do everything to prepare for a holiday gathering without getting testy. Call on friends, family and perhaps paid help to assist with preparing the home or making arrangements for activities. It may be worth what you save in frayed feelings.

2. Vow to make the best of the holidays, enjoying the good moments and rolling with the disappointments. Lost tempers can ruin what may be some of the person's best, last memories.

3. Reduce the potential for conflict by preparing others for what to expect over the holidays. If there has been a significant decline in your loved one since their last contact, let them know.

4. Try to anticipate the AD person's physical needs. For instance, if trips to the bathroom require assistance, plan in advance. Don't be disappointed if the AD person becomes fatigued in the middle of an occasion; arrange for them to rest or retire early, if that is their preference.

5. Stay focused on the positive and connect with others; holiday gatherings are often great opportunities to deepen close relationships and express your gratitude. As well as providing a warm experience for the AD person, tap into the socializing and down time from work to recharge your own batteries.

This story was originally published on, a website for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and dementia. For more tips, answer and support, visit the site here.

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