Reducing Alzheimer’s Agitation During Holiday Celebrations


Holidays are a stressful time for anyone. But when someone has Alzheimer's disease or dementia, the interruption in normal routine and the flurry of activity can be particularly stressful. Agitation, fear and anxiety is often the result.

In addition, while scurrying about to complete usual holiday preparations, caregivers to people with Alzheimer's have the added stress of worrying about their loved one. Holidays – the time of year that is supposed to be full of celebration, laughter and good will – can turn into a season that your drains energy, increases stress and sucks the fun out of the holiday. But it doesn't have to be that way. Caregivers can, if not completely avoid, at least alleviate Alzheimer's and dementia-related problems.

Reduce holiday agitation for people with Alzheimer's

Christmas decorations and festivities often create changes in the environment and daily routine, which may cause someone with a cognitive or memory disorder to become agitated or confused. Some things to do during holidays:

  1. Your loved one can help you prepare for holiday, to whatever extent this condition will allow. Give safe and manageable activities. Keep the tasks at a level that will not overwhelm or confuse your loved one. Some examples include wrapping gifts (If the steps in wrapping confuse your parent, you could make this a team activity and gently assist them when needed) decorating tree with you, singing holiday songs, setting the table or any other traditions your family may have.
  2. Maintain a normal routine as much as possible: eating at the same time, the usual setting, keeping regular wake-up and bed-times.
  3. Keep decorations subtle. Tree with blinking lights can cause agitation and confusion by disorienting the person with Alzheimer's or dementia.
  4. Excessive, noise, commotion, loud crowds and rowdy children can cause confusion and agitation in your loved one.
  5. Decide on the number of people you and your loved one can handle and for how long. If you have a big family, you may want to divide visits up into several shifts during a specified time of the day or even different days.
  6. This will require good communication with family. Explain why this Christmas needs to be a little different. Let them let them know how things are going currently. Go into detail on your loved one's memory and what causes agitation and behavioral issues.
  7. If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living, plan on visiting in small groups, rather than large families at a time. Most nursing homes have staff with expertise in planning holiday activities that are calming and enjoyable for the patients. It may be less stressful for both you and your loved one if you join them in that planned celebration rather than to plan something on your own.

Maintain your regular routine for your loved one while trying to provide a pleasant, meaningful and calm holiday spirit for yourself and the rest of your family. Despite your best efforts, you still may feel more guilt and frustration during the holiday season. These feelings are normal and other caregivers experience the same. When this happens, take a moment and remember: Only so much is within your control. Don't feel guilty if the holiday is not perfect and has a few bumps in the road. You can make the holiday season a good experience for everyone involved by adjusting what you typically expect from the holiday season. Prepare others, and handle situations as they arise with a good attitude and acceptance.

Deanna Lueckenotte is the author of "Alzheimer's Days Gone By: For Those Caring for Their Loved Ones." She plans to continue publishing books related to Alzheimer's and caregivers. She would also like to continue her education by obtaining her doctorate in geriatrics.

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A little late - it's been Christmas since October! My life has been miserable as the 24/7 caregiver. I had 4 hours to drop my sister at the airport, have lunch that I bought for the two of us, and because my siblings appreciate me so much no one gives me time off, got me a gift or slips me gas money to take Mom on her errands.
In a nutty shell when Mom finally gets to the point to be in a home, the other 3 will swoop in pick her bones dry, evict me without notice and leave me tired, friendless and depressed. Yea Holidays and Family time - baloney!!
It is not only major holidays that set off elder people it is major events. Made my 88 and 89 year old parents go to my daughter's college graduation and her wedding. Both events were in another State. Graduation was in Annapolis, MD and wedding in Pensacola, FL. About 1 year apart. 2010 and 2011. I almost had a nervous breakdown. My daughter is an only child and so am I so yes I did write made them go. I figured that we had a small family so they should be there. My daughter also wanted them there because of the small family that we do have. My husbands parent's already passed. They did not want to. We live in NJ. My Dad insisted on taking his old suit case instead of the one that my husband and I provided for him. Did not think too much about it until we got to the airport and realized that his suit case had no wheels. Please don't let your parents go on a long trip with you without a suit case without wheels. Especially in an airport. Can not write everything but there were problems at every turn.
my thoughts exactly. A bit late. My first Christmas taking care of my mom in this condition. Worst Christmas of my life. Strangely enough the problems with has come in the days that followed. It's bad enough that she doesn't know I am her daughter most of the time, but being told she won't go to bed until I leave is a bit much. Then to make matters worse she keeps everyone up until 4 in the morning with her $%^$#%^ and lets me know in the morning she had a hell of a night. Really? That's terrible mom, but I think everyone had a night like that.