The holiday season is upon us. Most people look forward to festivities, gift-giving, good food and quality family time. Caregivers might also feel a surge of anxiety. You wonder where you’ll find the time and energy to recreate your family traditions. You worry about how your loved one with memory loss will handle increased activities and disruptions to daily routines.

On top of that, there are social distance considerations and varying regulations due to the pandemic. What’s normally a stressful time for caregivers is even more tricky to navigate. That’s why our tribe at Vineyard Henderson put together this Alzheimer’s Caregivers’ Guide to the Holidays. Use the following five tips to make this holiday as enjoyable as possible. 

Simplify the Celebration

Communicate with relatives in advance to let them know what to expect from family celebrations this year. Holiday dinners will be smaller or limited to household members based on CDC guidelines to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. On the bright side, smaller gatherings are beneficial for adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia who may be uncomfortable in noisy settings.

If you have relatives nearby who are part of your bubble, have a virtual meeting to explain what you can and cannot do this year. Don’t try to maintain all your traditions. If you previously prepared the whole dinner, plan to have a potluck meal or order contactless delivery. 

Make relatives aware of any changes since they last saw their loved one with Alzheimer’s. Maybe grandma won’t remember them or repeats the same story. Let them know both what to expect and how to respond. Refer to our guide on dementia communication for pointers. 

Decide if getting together for lunch instead of dinner helps you avoid the evening confusion or sundowning

Involve the Person with Alzheimer’s 

Include your loved one in the preparations as much as possible. Have them assist with simple tasks like cooking or decorating. Check out our list of safe holiday activities for seniors with dementia

Singing or listening to music relieves stress and reduces anxiety for people with Alzheimer’s. So, play your favorite holiday music. 

If you plan to gather with family (whether in person with a small group or via video chat), help your loved one prepare by showing them photos of family members with a few facts about that person. Do this a few times before your get-together. 

Minimize Your Stress

People with memory disorders often mirror others’ emotions, a phenomenon known as social contagion. Dementia caregiver stress can easily translate to the loved one you care for. Minimize your anxiety by asking family for help, using respite programs or hiring help. Say no to activities you don’t have the time or energy to do. Don’t feel compelled to live up to others’ expectations of what you should do.

Avoid Overstimulation

To avoid overstimulating your loved one with Alzheimer’s, don’t overdo decorations. Too much clutter or blinking lights can be disorienting. Keep holiday celebrations low key. Large, noisy gatherings (even via Zoom) can be overwhelming. Prepare a quiet place where your loved one can rest during busy activities or days. Also, plan a calm and relaxing activity, such as looking at a photo album, in case your loved one gets overwhelmed.

Maintain Routines

Keeping your loved one’s routine as normal as possible is a great way to avoid dementia caregiver stress. Disruptions and changes to their normal day-to-day can make your loved one feel out of sorts and confused. Additionally, adding more to your to-do list or plans, on top of your responsibilities, can lead to caregiver burnout. 

Ensure that both you and your loved one get adequate rest. Prioritize your routine and both of your needs over adding more holiday tasks. It’s more important for you to maintain a healthy schedule than it is to wrap extra gifts, bake more cookies or figure out how to still make this unprecedented holiday season special. 

Use the Alzheimer’s Caregivers’ Guide to Navigate this Unusual Holiday Season 

Even in the best years, the busyness of the holidays can be a recipe for increased caregiver stress. But we all know 2020 comes with its own unique hurdles. By incorporating the tips from our Alzheimer’s Caregivers’ Guide to the Holidays—good communication, setting expectations, keeping plans simple and maintaining routines—you can keep stress to a minimum.

Happy Holidays! We wish you a safe and special holiday season with the ones you love (either in person or via digital connection).