Can You Bring a Person with Alzheimer's to Holiday Gatherings?


Just like gifts and fruitcake, parties and family gatherings are a perennial staple of the holiday season. And, for a person caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, these get-togethers can be more chore than cheer.

As an experienced caregiver, you have probably adapted your communication style to fit your elderly loved one's capabilities and moods. But, other family members and friends are likely to be unequipped when it comes to interacting with someone who has Alzheimer's.

This doesn't mean that you have to shut your elderly loved one out of holiday festivities.

As a caregiver, you are in a position to help make fellow party-goers feel more comfortable interacting with a senior who has dementia—making a holiday shindig merrier for all involved:

  1. Give a status update. Send an email, or write a letter with a short primer. Tell everyone who is attending a holiday gathering how the senior with Alzheimer's is doing. Let party-goers know what to expect in terms of behavior. Explain odd quirks and perhaps share a humorous anecdote involving the senior to help put people at ease. Let family and friends know how much you appreciate their efforts to include a senior with dementia into the holiday celebrations. Including a photo is a good way to remind people that they are not interacting with a disease—they are interacting with a beloved family member or friend.
  2. Ease apprehension and encourage interaction. People are likely to feel apprehensive about conversing with a senior who has dementia. What do they say? What if the senior forgets who they're talking to or what the conversation is about? Reassure potential guests that positive interaction with the senior is possible and that engaging with their elderly loved one will help them.
  3. Offer tips. As the primary caregiver of the senior, you are in a unique position to offer guidance to friends and family members who are feeling apprehensive on how to navigate a conversation with a person who has Alzheimer's. Offer up a few tips based off of your interactions with the senior. Potential tips may include: asking open-ended questions, speaking from the heart, and reacting with patience to a senior who repeats themselves or loses the thread of a conversation.
  4. Tactfully handle damage control. If someone is talking to the senior and the interaction goes awry, don't panic and don't immediately apologize. Tend to your elderly loved one first. Once you make sure they are alright, explain the situation to the other person or people involved in the conversation. But, avoid talking about the person with dementia if they are within hearing range.
  5. Be on the lookout for agitation. People dealing with dementia can sometimes become overwhelmed in settings where there is a lot of activity or lots of other people. If you see your elderly loved one showing signs of anxiety, politely excuse yourself and take the senior to a room with no people in it to help them calm down.
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You're doing it! The column references seniors several times. People under 65 also have AD! I recall a time I brought my wife to a holiday party and when people got into conversations with her they were befuddled by her responses. By that time, my wife was unable to maintain a thread of converstion, so her responses did not make sense At the time she was in her mid-fifties and so people probably would not have guessed that the answer was that she suffered from AD.
Ploease do not perpetuate the untruth that only seniors have AD.
New times demand new approaches to celebrations!. There were two Christmas times to celebrate while my Mom was clearly past large parties . (We had already skipped Large Thanksgiving celebrations). The first I picked her up from her Memory Care AL and brought her to my home. There were 6 of us for dinner. Hubby and me, her and my brother his wife and son. I had prepared all of them as they live out of state. We picked her up in just enough time to arrive as dinner was almost ready. We ate and sang carols (our family tradiditon). I saw her getting tired and we took her home and had dessert without her later.
The next Christmas, My hubby and I picked her up and took her to a local hotel restaurant. It wasn't a typical holiday meal, it was more of a service to their guests, limited (non-holiday) menu. BUT the lobby was beautifully decorated and there was only one other small group in the restaurant. The waiter saw that my Mom was challenged and was ever so gracious. We had a lovely, quiet celebration and it was a nice change of pace for her. As we passed through the empty lobby on our way out, we stopped and sang 'We wish you a merry Christmas' to the registration staff. They joined in and clapped and smiled. It wasn't a big celebration, but oh so special. That was her last Christmas.

I did avoid the 20+ family parties, it would have been too much for her.