Holiday Tips for Caregivers (and anyone with parents)

How do you get through the holidays with aging parents?

Here is what I have learned from families over the years about keeping their minds with aging parents at holiday time.

  1. Ask your loved one how THEY would like to spend the holiday.  Their answer may surprise you with its simplicity.
  2. Don’t guilt your parent into doing the usual traditions if they don’t want to. Honor doing less. Remember, this may be their 80th tree trimming and they may be “over it.” My mom put up a paper tree one year and I was sad when she said that was going to the the tree for Christmas. But, it was her house and she wasn’t a tree person anyway. It had been my dad’s tradition.
  3. My rule of going to only one place per day is still is a good one.  Go to one store or the bank or the post office, etc. and come back home. Save another errand for another day.
  4. Have guests wear name tags. This reduces embarrassment for all when we can’t remember someone’s name, but is especially nice if your parent is having short-term memory loss. People who can’t remember names will often opt out of social gatherings as their symptoms get worse.
  5. Realize that making the traditional holiday meals are a lot of work, especially if there are vision, dexterity, stamina, or pain issues at play for your loved one (or you).  If your loved one doesn’t want to cook or decorate this year, perhaps you can offer to do these things. To add to the experience, you may want to invite your loved one over to supervise. It’s fun to learn to make cherished items and carry tradition forward.
  6. Money may be tighter for our parents as they age, so you can insist on buying ingredients for a dinner.
  7. Offer to do the driving to events, especially at night. As we age, night time driving can be more difficult, especially if rainy or snowy weather, or we have alcohol in our system. And, speaking of alcohol…
  8. Limit alcohol at parties, one beverage (5 oz. wine or 1 beer or 1 oz. of hard liquor) is the guideline for those over 65. That’s mainly because the liver takes longer to process the alcohol, the kidneys don’t filter as quickly, and medications may be in a person’s system that intensifies the drowsiness effect of alcohol.
  9. screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-33-22-pmSometimes we hesitate to bring a relative somewhere because they can’t make it up the stairs. You can purchase or borrow a portable ramp and take it to places and then use a walker or wheelchair. It folds out and goes over front or back steps, and then you take it home. Go to to see all the types you can order.
  10. gals-working-out-with-mom-compressorGetting moving is a great idea, especially if we get our heart rate up. Blood increasing to the brain is healthy for all of us and helps stave off dementia. So, offer to take a gym class when you visit a relative or go for a walk, if possible. See the picture of me and my mom. We went to her Silver Sneakers cardio class and a Zumba class. Go, Mom! If your loved one lives in a facility, bundle them up and go for a walk around the block. That simple act of changing the scenery for them will aid getting Vitamin D and help combat depression. Being outdoors can aid in a better night’s sleep for both of you.
  11. Rather than buying a gift, offer to do a house chore the person needs to be done. You may be able to clean the leaves from the gutter, change bed linens, or help wrap gifts, whatever they need.


Helpful tips you have a relative with memory loss:

  1. Realize that their perception of a holiday event is altered. Their ability to remember names, mingle, accurately see and hear things may be impaired. A lot.
  2. If your relative says “no thanks” to the annual events you are doing, understand and honor doing something smaller or at their home, rather than at another’s home or doing nothing.  For some people with dementia, a party can be overwhelming, even when they enjoyed the parties in the past.
  3. They may react badly once they are there and want to leave. The stimuli of a room full of people can blow a person away. This can happen even if you don’t have dementia, right?
  4. Tell family ahead of time that you’re coming BUT may need to take your loved one home early. Apologize if this affects their food count, table setting, etc., but you’re going to have to play things by ear.
  5. Music can be comforting and enable your loved one to calm down and stay for dinner. Try singing familiar songs. No guarantees.
  6. Roll with the changes and realize this holiday season may be different from years before, which may make you sad as you adjust to the new normal. On the other hand, it may be different in a good way, a way that is less stressful as you don’t struggle to have the holidays go a certain way. Heck, your loved one may be more easy going.
  7. Stay in a quieter area of the house to keep interactions low key. However, if your loved one still can’t tolerate all the people, immediately reduce the number around the person until they seem comfortable or just leave the party. The comfort of your loved one is paramount.