Trends in aging: Alzheimer's and Dementia Part 5: Tips for the holidays

By Wendy McHaney
Nov. 22, 2013 at 5:22 a.m.

Wendy McHaney

Wendy McHaney

The holiday season can be a stressful time for someone with Alzheimer's disease. Since Thanksgiving is this week, I decided to offer some tips for gatherings, traveling and gift-giving.

Holiday gatherings

Limit the number of guests for the holidays and have people over for short periods.

Write a letter to attendees explaining the current situation to prepare family and friends for any changes the disease may have caused.

Maintain the person's normal routine and build on past traditions and memories.

Show old family pictures, a memory book for past interests, play recordings of favorite music, TV shows or movies.

Celebrate over a lunch or brunch rather than in the evening, especially for individuals experiencing sundowning.

Remain flexible, be gentle on yourself and take time to rest.

Turn to others and use the support and assistance of those who understand and care.


Carefully weigh the costs and benefits of travel.

Changes in environment can trigger wandering, so make sure the person with dementia is wearing a medic ID bracelet or ID on their clothing.

Stick with the familiar and choose destinations that require few changes in daily routines.

Choose the best mode of travel (most comfortable, causes the least anxiety) and avoid multiple stops.

Recognize warning signs of agitation and do not attempt physical restraint.

Allow extra time when scheduling events and have a back-up plan.

Travel during the time of day that is best for the person and avoid loud, crowded places.

Bring a change of clothes, water, snacks and activities.

Bring up-to-date medications, doctor's phone numbers, emergency contact information, and copies of important documents.

Gift ideas

Identification bracelet

Framed enlargement of old family photos

A supply of frozen homemade dinners labeled and dated (in disposable containers)

Tube socks - no heel to worry about

Lap robes - textured, interesting materials

Night light

Tickets to ball games, home show, boat shows, antique shows

Cuddly stuffed animals or life-like baby dolls

Plants - artificial or realMemory books of past interests, achievements or work history

Exercise materialsVisits - call before to set convenient time

Hope you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. My next column will begin a six-part series on the stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Sources: Alzheimer's Association

Wendy McHaney is a certified senior adviser and the owner and director of operations of Senior Helpers. For more information about Senior Helpers, visit



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