12 Holiday Tips When Caring For Those With Alzheimer’s or Dementia


Lori La Bey Founder of Alzheimer's Speaks

Lori La Bey provides 12 practical tips, one for each of the days of Christmas, to help families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia make the most of their holiday season.

MINNEAPOLIS, December 12th, 2011 – As the holidays approach millions of families will gather around the hearth to celebrate the holiday season.  But for some families, the holidays will present special challenges.  According to a research study conducted by Prevalence an estimated 5.4 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.  Another 15 million people provide 17 billion hours of unpaid care for a friend or relative with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Lori La Bey, the founder, president and CEO of Alzheimer’s Speaks, a Minneapolis-based advocacy group that provides education and support for Alzheimer’s caregivers, says that the best gift a family can give to a loved one with Alzheimer’s is their presence during the holiday season. La Bey acknowledges that this isn’t always easy due to family dynamics and varying needs of the family member. La Bey, has 12 practical suggestions (one for each of the 12 days of Christmas) for people who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to help them make the most of their holiday season.

  • Be Sure to Maintain the Connection With Your Loved One

Draw on the unique personal connection between you and your loved one. Don’t stop doing the things you used to do in the past, just start doing them differently to accommodate where the person with memory loss is today. 

  • Make Conscience Choices

We remember three basic things throughout life: 1). What makes us sad 2).What scares us and 3). What brings us joy. Focus on positive and joyful moments. You will be amazed at the calmness, which comes into your life.

Here is a story about choices we need to make on this journey of memory loss:


  • Acceptance

Release your need to control things you have no power to change. Keep in mind, a person with dementia uses the same equation to solve a problem, respond to a situation, or make a comment as you do, they just connect their dots differently.  No matter what you do, you cannot change that fact.  Breathe deep and let it go.

Here is a video about acceptance and the connecting of the dots:


  • Grow With Your Relationship

Like any relationship there are twists and turns as we change and grow as individuals.  With these changes our relationships are affected, but it is our mindset that will allow us to accept or reject the change at hand. It’s important to know that change is okay and is to be expected. One of the best gifts Lori’s mother gave her was a new level of unconditional love.  When Lori’s mother lost her ego it enabled Lori to remove all judgment or blame and replace it with an authentic accepting heart.

Here’s a video about family decision-making and choices ahead:


  • Keep It Simple

Simplicity is a gift both for those with dementia as well as their caregivers.  Learn to give directions one-step at a time, develop routines and patterns, de-clutter the house so things can be found easily. Less is definitely more when dealing with memory loss.

  • Gatherings – Smaller is Better

If you are entertaining or going out to an event, a small environment is generally more comfortable for someone with dementia. The less stimulation the better. For the caregiver, this requires looking at events differently and learning to take an environmental inventory, such as the number of people attending, their connection to the person, the distance from the parking lot to the venue, the location of rest rooms, type of lighting, furniture accommodations and many other considerations.

Here is a story about visiting relatives:


  • Don’t “Freeze Frame” People

Freeze Framing is when we hold an unrealistic perception of someone. Typically this is an unconscious thing we do in order to try to meet our comfort needs. When we look at old photos we might think, “I want my mom back.” Yet nothing in that picture is the same.  We can’t force a person with dementia to be someone he or she can no longer be.

Here is another personal story of Lori’s about Freeze Framing someone:


  • Tap Into Help

People want to help. One of the most important things you can do is to provide them the gift and opportunity to give of themselves.  When we are able to help others, it gives us a sense of purpose and strengthens our relationships. But it’s important to be specific about what would be “helpful.”

  • A call or visit with the person with dementia;
  • Helping with specific errands or tasks;
  • Maybe going to a movie with you so you can have break.

These all have equal value. Don’t be too proud to ask friends and family to help or to hire support services. Keep in mind most of us don’t want to be tied to one person 24/7.  A person with dementia is no different.

  • Use Your Memory Chip

Your Memory Chip is an easy and free tool that Lori developed during her 30-year journey with her mother’s memory loss.  Before every interaction remind yourself to engage the person with dementia with three things in mind:

  • Are they safe?
  • Are they happy?
  • Are they pain-free?

By focusing on these three criteria you will train yourself to remove your ego and look at what is in the best interest of the loved one.

To get a copy of “Your Memory Chip™” go to www.AlzheimersSpeaks.com or watch the following YouTube video to learn more about how to use your Memory Chip.

  • Let Go of Control

Release your need to control things. The calmness that comes with acceptance and flexibility is quite amazing.  Most of us tend to worry about things that never happen.  Use that energy to focus on creating joyful moments and capturing them.  Remember, the only thing you can control is yourself, your choices, and your reactions to what happens around you.

  • Utilize Multi-Sensory Engagement

Multi-Sensory engagement is an extremely powerful tool, which is overlooked. Keep in mind, a person with dementia can be much like coma victim.  They can take in everything around them, but they just are not always able to respond as we think they should. This goes for all senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Use multi-sensory engagement to your benefit and theirs.  Paying attention to the new signals will pay off with gifts such as: a brief smile, a glint in their eye, a lit giggle, a squeeze of the hand, or wiggle of a toe or finger.  Look and you will find they are communicating with you.

Here are links to some YouTube videos to help caregivers understand multi-sensory engagement:

Two stories that show the impact of Multi-Sensory Engagement



The power of Music


Ideas to interact with someone with dementia  


“Without question, having a relative or loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia is one of the most difficult and painful things a family can experience,” says La Bey. “However, by accepting that the loved one has no control over what’s happening, keeping things simple and removing your ego from the equation you can maintain a rich and full relationship with them for years. It’s important to understand that just like you, they’ll change over time. It’s up to you to adapt, have empathy and compassion. I hear all the time, ‘I don’t know what to do and I don’t want to do the wrong thing.’ You can’t do anything wrong because spending time with your loved one is the most important thing can you give them. Over time you’ll figure out what works best for both of you.

About Alzheimer’s Speaks

Alzheimer’s Speaks provides a variety of platforms and forums to educate and shift the way dementia care is provided by professionals, family caregivers and the public at large. Alzheimer’s Speaks believes collaborative and alternative works push society forward in search of answers and that working together and sharing knowledge is the best way to win the battle against dementia. Alzheimer’s Speaks believes it is time to shift caregiving from crisis to comfort by removing the fear and providing economical services, tools, concepts and products to those in need. For more information please visit www.alzheimersspeaks.com.

6 Replies to “12 Holiday Tips When Caring For Those With Alzheimer’s or Dementia”

    1. WE all do it through out our life with just about everyone it in. It’s how we categorize and keep a feeling of or since of control without understand our impact of the process at large. I wouldn’t beat yourself up too hard. The main thing is to understand it now and move forward sharing your knowledge with others

      Happy Holidays!


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