Holiday Season Tough on Alzheimer’s Sufferers

The holiday season is officially upon us, and for most people, it means a time filled with joy, cheer, and family. But for many seniors, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease, the holidays can be stressful — for the very same reasons it brings happiness to most others. People with Alzheimer’s disease thrive on familiar routines; adding guests, loud conversation, and activity can be disorienting to Alzheimer’s sufferers. Wrapping gifts can be a soothing activity for Alzheimer's patients.

The stress isn’t limited to the person with the disease, however. Caregivers and other family members often become concerned and worried whether their loved one will be uncomfortable with guests, overwhelmed by activity, or feel isolated. Even young children can become confused if a loved one no longer recognizes them or mistakes them for someone else. Anxiety is often amplified if the person is traveling to stay with other relatives during the holidays; removing Alzheimer’s sufferers from their familiar environment can be stressful. This is true both for those living at home and individuals residing in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, who often stay overnight with loved ones over the holidays. interviewed Peg Bratton, gerontologist masters-level educator for the Great Plains Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Wyoming. According to Bratton, families should modify their expectations around the holidays but not exclude loved ones who suffer from the disease from the activity. Instead, offer simple tasks, such as setting the table, singing Christmas carols, or wrapping gifts. Someone who is comfortable with the patient, and vice-versa, should plan to remain close by throughout the activities; participating in a familiar activity with that person, such as playing cards, can be a soothing distraction from the surrounding commotion. If the person becomes agitated, take him or her to a quiet room until the episode passes.

Bratton also advises families to expect modifications to tradition. Focus on keeping the traditions you can manage, and make adjustments to make others more manageable. For example, have guests each bring a dish rather than try to prepare an entire meal yourself, or order takeout if necessary.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are 35.6 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease worldwide in 2010. By 2030, the figure is expected to reach 65.7 million.

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