The holiday season is intended to be a time of festivities and closeness with family and friends. However, if you or someone you love suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or dementia, the holidays can feel both upsetting and overwhelming. While you cannot reverse the effects of the disease, you can moderate some of the residual anxiety that comes with this time of year.

There is no question the holiday season will be different—and more difficult—to navigate than before the illness. Try these calming activities and therapies to make the most of your holidays, both for you and your loved ones.

Reminisce on Positive Memories

The early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia mostly affect short-term memory loss. However, this can worsen as the disease progresses. Focus on celebrating events and traditions from holidays past. Encourage family members to dust off the photo albums, cuddle on the sofa and exchange their favorite holiday stories.

However, be careful not to force the nostalgia. If the person suffering from AD or dementia is having difficulty or frustration with remembering, stay positive. Tell stories and cherished moments, but also keep it light.

Spend Time Baking and Crafting

Interactive and tactile hobbies can accelerate cognitive function, so try some hands-on seasonal activities such as baking or crafting. Keep the brain occupied with tasks such as stirring and rolling out cookie dough, stringing popcorn garland or assisting with decorations.

Simple, repetitive tasks are the most beneficial to pitch in with, according to Dementia Care Central. This is because repetition will include AD or dementia patients in the action and captivate their attention, without causing a sense of disorientation or anxiety.   

Participate in Gentle Movement

Since dementia and Alzheimer’s can impact both mental and physical coordination over time, a restorative exercise program can delay the onset of those effects. Exercise helps Alzheimer’s patients gain endurance, as well improve their ability to think, according to research from the University of Kansas.

Take advantage of the cold weather, bundle up and head outside for a brisk family stroll around the neighborhood. Fresh air not only calms the nerves but gentle movement stimulates both the body and mind. Of course remember that the family should stay together and in familiar areas, so the loved one with AD or dementia doesn’t feel lost or confused.

Offer an Extra Dose of Patience

The pressure of combatting AD or dementia and memory impairment can often lead to heightened tensions, emotions and frustrations. This could bring about conflict during the holiday season. Make sure everyone remains patient, extends forgiveness and quickly releases disappointment. Prioritize family connections over internal stress.

“No one is perfect. Mistakes are going to happen…but your ability to move past this and set it aside can support a happier holiday for all of you,” adds Mara Botonis, dementia care advocate and the author of When Caring Takes Courage.

Enjoy the Holidays with Your Loved Ones

Whether you or a family is struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the holidays can present a unique set of challenges. Even though it may be different than what you’ve experienced in the past, you can still enjoy the holiday season.

At Vineyard Henderson Memory Care Facility, we believe practicing patience and staying positive can make a huge difference in your loved ones’ holiday season experience this year. Reminisce on family traditions, but don’t push it if the memories aren’t coming easily. Try repetitive activities or gentle exercise. Most importantly, remember that time with your family and friends is a precious gift.