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Today's Family Magazine

Planning ahead for the approaching holiday season as a caregiver

By Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

Holidays often have a special meaning for older adults and their family members.  They are occasions set aside to acknowledge the passage of time, celebrate significant events in our lives and bring families and friends together.  By making the most of these special moments, we can truly value our time together with the ones we love.

However, if we are caring for a loved one throughout the holiday season, we may have concerns about balancing our traditional holiday celebrations with our responsibilities as a caregiver.  The location of our event, invite list and pre-preparations can all be affected by our caregiving schedule, so we may need to plan ahead for festivities that are easy to manage and don’t require complicated food preparation or significant cleanup.

Here are some tips we can follow to help us provide quality care for our loved one while also making the most of time spent with them during the holiday season:

1. Ask for help
Our friends and family may be willing to assist with cooking, cleanup and socializing with older loved ones, so we shouldn’t hesitate to ask them to lend a helping hand with any necessary tasks before, after and during the event. 

2. Avoid overwhelming situations
If certain guests haven’t seen our loved one recently, we may need to explain before they arrive that the loved one’s health or memory may have declined since their last visit.  Keep in mind that a family member with Alzheimer’s or other memory disorder may become confused and overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of guests, and that they may not be able to recognize some of the people they did previously.  As a caregiver, we should watch closely to see if a loved one needs a brief timeout and some comforting words from us or our guests.

3. Plan holiday activities a loved one can participate in
There are a number of holiday activities we can recommend to a loved one to help them stay active.  These tasks naturally vary by the holiday you’re celebrating, but here are a few to consider:

  • Choosing and wrapping gifts for friends and family. 
  • Making festive decorations. 
  • Watching classic holiday movies or reading holiday stories.  If a loved one has grandchildren, this may be a perfect opportunity to get them involved by having them read to their grandparent.
  • Helping to prepare special holiday dishes and treats.
  • Engaging in reminiscing.

4. Minimize stress
The holiday season can be especially stressful not only for loved ones with memory disorders, but also for caregivers.  In addition to routine household chores, caregivers are also responsible for extra holiday tasks like cooking, baking, decorating and so on.

As caregivers, it’s important to give ourselves some respite during this busy time of year.  A short nap or other “timeout” to rest and relax will not only help us regain our energy, but also to appreciate what this special season means to us.  For a more relaxed and meaningful holiday, we should consider choosing activities that are most enjoyable to us and passing on the rest.

5. Choose a gift a loved one will value
We may find it difficult to choose holiday, birthday and gifts for other occasions for a loved one with memory loss.  Some suggestions:

  • Easy crossword & puzzle books.
  • Warm socks, slippers, robes and pajamas.
  • Family photograph albums or digital photo frames.
  • A fruit basket, favorite plant or flowers.
  • Adult coloring books.
  • A sensory blanket or quilt.
  • Holiday and birthday cards created by grandchildren and other young relatives.

Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging is an over 110-year-old Cleveland-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to support caregivers and empower all people to age well through research, consumer-responsive services and client advocacy. Visit for more information (and for an email form) or call them at 216-791-8000.