Navigating Alzheimer’s During the Holiday Season

family celebrating holiday

While holidays can be a joyous time for many families, they can be challenging for families affected by Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Eastern North Carolina Chapter and Western Carolina Chapter are marking these events by sharing tips and resources for the 358,000 family members and friends across North Carolina who are currently caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s.

From gifts to gatherings, the holidays can be overwhelming. For those living with Alzheimer’s or related dementias and their families, a little planning goes a long way. Holiday celebrations can create extra anxiety for someone living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, especially large, noisy gatherings that depart from daily routines. The Alzheimer’s Association is offering simple tips that can make holiday celebrations easier and more enjoyable for all involved.

“As the holidays near, we are raising awareness about the unique challenges caregivers face,” said Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter. “We want to help families navigate these challenges and provide meaningful and enjoyable occasions for their families.”

Throughout the holiday season, the Alzheimer’s Association in North Carolina is offering a free virtual education program, “Caregiving During the Holidays.” Taking place on December 7, 8, 9 and 16, this program is designed to teach caregivers to care for themselves, their loved ones, and about holiday safety all while giving suggestions that may make the holidays more enjoyable for all. For a complete list of upcoming virtual programs or to register for a program, visit or call 800-272-3900.

Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association is offering tips to help families plan appropriately for both in-person or virtual celebrations.

Tips to help navigate Alzheimer’s and other dementias this holiday season:

  • Plan Ahead. In the early stages, a person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia may be less comfortable socializing, while others may enjoy seeing family and friends. Make holiday plans together, focusing on the things that bring happiness, not stress. Here’s some simple questions you can ask when planning:
    • How do we maintain traditions?
    • How can we incorporate travel or a virtual gathering?
    • How do we plan for entertaining visitors?
    • How do we assess if the environment is safe?
    • How do we involve our loved one with dementia?
  • Take a person-centered approach. Focus on what is enjoyable for the person living with Alzheimer’s. Take time to experiment with new holiday traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit for your loved one. If they get overwhelmed in large groups, a virtual or small quiet gathering may be preferable. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch.
  • Prepare your guests. As dementia progresses, an individual may show significant changes in cognitive abilities or behavior. Prepare guests for what to expect before they arrive, and explain that these are symptoms of the disease, not the person. Offer extended family members suggested activities to engage the person safely or best ways to communicate with them.
  • Involve the person living with Alzheimer’s. Depending on abilities and preferences, make sure to keep the person living with Alzheimer’s involved in the celebration. As the person’s abilities allow, invite them to help wrap packages, decorate or set the table. Try to maintain a normal routine to avoid disrupting established schedules.
  • Take Care of yourself. It is important for you to take care of yourself, especially during the holidays, due to the high level of stress. If you find yourself not taking care of your own needs, you may be putting your health at risk.
    • Many caregivers are sometimes hesitant to ask for help, but loved ones and friends are often looking for opportunities to contribute. Try to have a few tasks listed to offer to family & friends who desire to help. Remember, people may not offer their help, but may be very willing to if asked.
  • Most importantly, adjust expectations and be prepared to go with the flow. It may not be realistic to maintain every holiday tradition or event, but this is an opportunity to create new traditions that everyone can enjoy.

Tips for adapting gift giving for families impacted by dementia:

  • For celebrations that include gift-giving, focus on practical and comforting items.
  • Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person living with Alzheimer’s. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person needs or can easily enjoy, such as comfortable easy-to-remove clothing, favorite foods, music, videos, and photo albums of family and friends.
  • Something to entertain. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals may enjoy realistic baby dolls/toy pets or items to keep restless hands occupied.
  • Gifts to avoid. Refrain from complicated electronics, challenging games, lengthy books or actual pets.
  • Gift giving extends to the caregiver too. Ideas include gift certificates for meal delivery, respite services or housekeeping or handyman services, or a membership to the Association’s MedicAlert plan with Wandering Support. (Information can be found at
  • Gift Wrapping. When it comes to gifts wrapped for persons living with dementia. Consider the individual. If they enjoy a challenge, wrap the gift as you normally would.  If they can become easily frustrated, consider putting in a gift bag or just putting a bow on it.

In 2020, friends and family of those with Alzheimer’s in North Carolina provided an estimated 517 million hours of unpaid care, a contribution valued at $7.3 billion. According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, 83 percent of the help provided to older adults in the U.S. comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers. And nearly half of all caregivers (48 percent) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Caregivers of people with dementia report providing an average of 92 hours of care per month.

Help is available

The holiday season is often a time when families come together. It may also be a time that extended family members notice cognitive changes in a loved one they don’t see regularly. For those who see concerning changes in a loved one, the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline — 800.272.3900 — remains a vital resource for individuals and families who have concerns about cognitive changes affecting someone they know

The Alzheimer’s Association Helpline is available to help families navigate any disease-related challenges, including those resulting from the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.  Additional resources accessible from anywhere are available at

Additional Facts and Figures: (

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
  • More than six million Americans are living with the disease, including 180,000 North Carolina residents — a number estimated to grow to as many as 210,000 by year 2025.
  • More than 11 million family and friends, including 358,000 in North Carolina, provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in the United States.
  • One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

By Christine John-Fuller