Advice Mind & Memory Care

How Can We Preserve Our Memories Now That Dad Has Alzheimer’s?

Woman and older man in wheelchair

Dear Benchmark,

My father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While it was a diagnosis we had
long suspected, receiving confirmation has been much tougher than we ever imagined.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, we are looking for ways to include my dad in the celebrations and to preserve our memories of happy times. But we also need to know how to keep him safe and minimize the disruptions in his everyday life.

Do you have any ideas for us?


Cherishing the Holidays When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Christina,

Many of the families we work with at Benchmark Senior Living have expressed similar sentiments about receiving the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. But it sounds like you are taking a proactive approach to managing his disease, and that can make a big difference for him and the entire family.

Continuing to create cherished moments with your father means meeting him where he is in his journey. It requires working with his abilities and finding ways to support his struggles.

As far as celebrating the holidays together, planning ahead will definitely be the key. Here are a few tips to get started.

Planning for Safe and Happy Holiday Celebrations 
Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Realistic Expectations: Sit down with your loved ones to discuss your traditional holiday celebrations and activities. Can some be modified to adapt to your father’s changing needs? For example, if your dad has always helped bake and carve the turkey, is there another safer task he can help with this year instead? Perhaps it might be washing vegetables or mixing up the mashed potatoes. Try to think about his abilities rather than his challenges.

New Traditions: If your traditional holiday activities might seem like they would be too overwhelming for your dad, start some new ones this year. Baking cookies together, for example, is a great intergenerational holiday activity. It also offers aromatherapy benefits, especially if you are baking cookies he’s familiar with. Another idea might be to round up the grandkids and read favorite holiday books aloud. Your dad might recognize the storyline and be able to follow along. Does your community light up the town for the holidays? Load the family in the car and drive around to enjoy the holiday lights after dark one evening.

The Soundtrack: For people with Alzheimer’s—even in the more advanced stages of the disease—music can be a way to connect. Did your father have favorite holiday music he always enjoyed? Creating a playlist of his favorite music may help him find joy in the season. It can also provide you with an opportunity for a family sing-along.

Minimize Holiday Décor: Depending upon how advanced your father’s disease is, going all-out with holiday décor might not be the best idea this year. A change in surroundings can increase agitation for someone with Alzheimer’s. Instead, limit holiday décor to areas of the home your father doesn’t visit as often.

Timing is Key: As you are planning the holiday events and activities you want to involve your father in, think about his best and worst times of day. Some people with Alzheimer’s experience what is known as “Sundowning Syndrome”. It makes evenings difficult for them. Other seniors struggle most in the morning, so afternoons and evenings are their best times. Plan celebrations around his best times.

Hosting a Party: If you plan to host a party in your own home, alert your guests to your father’s situation ahead of time. A very simple email to those who will be attending might be the easiest way to do this. Be sure to explain that while he might struggle to remember names, you know he will appreciate seeing loved ones.

Quiet Space: Always make certain your father has a quiet place he can retreat to if holiday activities seem to be too much for him. If he lives with you, make sure there are activities set up for him to do in his bedroom. Maybe a basket of towels to fold or a deck of cards to sort. Soft music might also help block out noise from the rest of the house.

My final tip is to remember to document the holidays and to encourage other family members to do the same. Take lots of photos. Capture video of even the smallest moments. Then be sure to save them to enjoy for years to come!

Mind & Memory Care
Having the Conversation