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Dec 22, 2022

With the holiday season upon us, many may be looking forward to traditions that will bring joy and warmth - but if your family member is living with Alzheimer’s or related dementia, this time can become overwhelming. If you are a caregiver, take care of yourself and allow yourself to maintain the traditions you can and not feel bad if you can’t do everything you usually would.

'Tis the season for creating new memories and cherishing old ones! We can all be part of a treasured tradition: togetherness. Time spent with friends and family can become even more meaningful when modified to accommodate a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Whether it be adapting existing holiday traditions or starting from scratch - just remember that joy is still possible during those special moments no matter what stage of the disease they are in.

In today's episode of This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards An Age-Friendly World,  I’ll share three tips for enjoying all the festive moments while being mindful of our loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. 

So take a moment away from wrapping gifts and baking pies (or whatever it is you're doing) to refresh yourself on how the best caregivers, like yourselves, should manage things so that everyone in your household gets what they need!

Key points covered in this episode:

✔️ Tip #1: Visits or Family Gatherings—Find the Right Balance 

When planning holidays around those living with Alzheimer's disease, work around the person living with dementia’s schedule and adjust expectations

Think about the best time of day to do your gathering, the number of people to invite and think about the person living with Alzheimer's disease. Are they still comfortable socializing, or do a lot of people and increased noise just increase their anxiety or agitation? 

That happens to any of us. If you're used to living in a very quiet environment, you're put into one with a lot of noise and activity. It can make anyone anxious. So just keep that in mind. 

More importantly, think about location, like should you have this event in your own home or go to where that person lives? If they're in the facility or nursing home and then be sure that you communicate with your family and friends about the expectations, the person's preferences and abilities at this time. 

✔️ Tip #2: Plan Activities Based On The Person Living With Dementia’s Current Ability

Making Sweet Memories: Cookies, Dementia and Tree Decorations!

If you have a tradition of baking cookies, involve that person at the level they can participate. At each step in the process, give the person a role – such as stirring the cookie mix, adding ingredients, rolling the dough or decorating.

If tree decorating is a tradition, depending on if the person can stand or not, give them an area of the tree to decorate – and don’t get hung up on it being perfect. Their participation and inclusion should be the focus.

✔️ Tip #3: Gifts: For The Person Living With Alzheimer’s Disease

For giving gifts, they may need help with shopping and picking out gifts. But it's always important when you go to any type of event, and people are exchanging presents that we're all part of that and we have something to give. 

When receiving gifts, be sure to communicate with family and friends about what the person can currently do, what they're currently interested in, and things that they need. So some ideas could be giving hand lotion, maybe giving them a family photo album. This labeled with names and dates and even little stories, or using technology to create a playlist of their favorite music. 

So there are a lot of different gifts or different ways that you can handle the gift-giving and the gift-receiving that allows that person to be included.

✔️ Useful Resources You Can Check

The Alzheimer's Association website offers tips and strategies to help with the holidays, both for a person living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.   

If you have questions or comments or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question. 


About Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN:

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing ('96) and Master of Science in Nursing ('00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I genuinely enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home, and office visits), then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer. I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-master's Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing ('11). I then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 which led to me joining the George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing faculty in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor. I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health, and Humanities. Please find out more about her work at