Prepping for the holidays as a caregiver

The holiday season is filled with cheer, good tidings and fun family get-togethers. For family caregivers assisting with a loved one experiencing memory impairment, this can easily become the hardest time of the year. It is important to prepare ahead of time and follow these helpful tips for the best holiday season!

A crowded room can be overwhelming and confusing for anyone with or without dementia, so consider hosting one or two smaller gatherings. Try meeting with family and friends ahead of time to discuss expectations.

Another option is to write a letter to potential guests. This letter is a good example.

“I’m writing this letter to let you know how things are going at our house. While we’re looking forward to your visit, we thought it might be helpful if you understood our current situation before you arrive. You may notice that ____ has changed since you last saw him/her. Among the changes you may notice are ___. I’ve enclosed a picture so you know how ___ looks now.

Because ___ sometimes has problems remembering and thinking clearly, his/her behavior is a little unpredictable. Please understand that ___ may not remember who you are and may confuse you with someone else. Please don’t feel offended by this. He/she appreciates your being with us, and so do I. Please treat ___ as you would any person. A warm smile and a gentle touch on ___’s shoulder or hand will be appreciated more than you can know.

I ask that you call before you visit or when you’re nearby so we can prepare for your arrival. Caregiving is a tough job, and I’m doing the very best I can. With your help and support, we can create a holiday memory that we’ll all treasure.”

This example letter was provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

For families and caregivers of individuals with memory loss, the holidays can be frustrating and difficult. With acceptance, planning and reasonable expectations, this time or year can become an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Here are some situations to avoid that will confuse and agitate those with memory loss.

  • Crowds of people, especially crowds who expect the individual to remember them
  • Loud noises, conversations and music
  • Strange surroundings
  • Changes in light: too light or too dark
  • Over-indulgence in rich foods
  • Changes in routine and sleep habits

Try to be as upfront as possible with family members who have not seen this individual since becoming severely impaired. Let them know that he/she might not remember their name or might act inappropriately. Let guests know that these new moments spent together are more meaningful than a loved one’s memory of them. Encourage guests to give this person a useful gift. Below is a list of appropriate gifts for someone with memory impairment.

  1. Electric coffee or tea pots that turn off after a short period of time
  2. Large desk calendars to mount on the wall
  3. Medication holders with timers to indicate time to take
  4. Photo albums with names and dates next to each picture
  5. Registration in the Medic Alert®/Safe Return Program®
  6. Simple-to-manage clothing (tube socks, easy on sweatshirts, tennis shoes with Velcro closings)
  7. Gift certificates for haircuts and manicures
  8. Older music, especially music from a loved one’s childhood
  9. Tapes of sermons or church services
  10. Cuddly stuffed animals
  11. Tickets to a musical event or circus
  12. Trip to a shopping mall and lunch
  13. Visit to the local senior center to participate in activities
  14. Bird feeders
  15. Tapes of bird songs
  16. Gift certificates to adult day services
  17. Hugs, hugs and more hugs
  18. Short visits often

List of gifts was provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, even from your loved one. Becoming involved in holiday preparation will help your loved one familiarize himself or herself with the upcoming event. If extra help is needed, research a home care agency in your area. A homecare agency can help with day to day activities and respite care to allow for more time to prepare for guests. To see what other services home care agencies offer, visit