Alzheimer’s Association offers tips for holiday activities

1 in 3 Americans knows someone with Alzheimer’s, 1 in 10 has a family member with Alzheimer’s

SKOKIE—The Alzheimer’s Association offers suggestions for family members, caregivers and friends of those with Alzheimer’s disease, to plan engaging, manageable, comfortable and safe holiday activities at home, when visiting, or in a residential care setting.

Adjust Expectations—“Discuss holiday celebrations with relatives and close friends so everyone understands your family plans and expectations,” said Melanie Chavin, vice president of program services for the Alzheimer’s Association—Greater Illinois Chapter. “We encourage families to do what’s most important to them and modify holiday traditions to what they reasonably can manage.”

Involve Everyone—“Activities involving family and friends can provide people with Alzheimer’s a sense of security and togetherness, enhance their self-esteem and may reduce agitation or wandering,” Chavin said. “Safe, manageable activities could range from household chores and favorite pastimes, to outings and opportunities for reminiscing.”

Communicate Emotions—“Alzheimer’s can diminish a person’s ability to communicate, and these tips may help family, friends and guests better understand each other,” Chavin said. “It’s important to be calm, patient and supportive if the person has trouble communicating. Focus on feelings and let the person know you are listening and trying to understand. Sometimes emotions are more important than words. Speak in a gentle, relaxed tone and address the person by name—it’s courteous and can get his attention.”

Adapt Gift Giving—“Encourage family and friends toward useful, practical gifts such as favorite books, films or music,” Chavin said. “Other ideas include gift certificates to a favorite restaurant, scrapbooks with photos and mementos of special events or outings to look at holiday decorations.”

Be Safety-Conscious—Adapting the environment for the person with dementia and maintaining the person’s normal routine as much as possible, can reduce the risk of injury and situations that could be disruptive and confusing. Chavin said, “For example, we encourage families to arrange rooms with ample space for walking side-by-side, to place contrasting-color rugs in front of doors or steps to help the person anticipate a change in space, and to avoid changes in light levels and blinking lights.”

Travel Wisely—“The keys here are to maintain the person’s daily routine and keep plans as simple as possible,” Chavin said. “Our top travel tips include using familiar modes of transportation, avoiding peak travel times, advising service and hospitality staff that you are traveling with someone with dementia and about the person’s behaviors and special needs, and arranging for services, such as wheelchairs, well ahead of time. We also encourage families to make sure the person has identification items such as a Safe Return® bracelet or clothing labels,” she said. “More than 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s wander at some point, often more than once. Many wanderers become disoriented and lost, and are unable to return home or communicate their situations. The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® program helps reunite people who wander with family/caregivers and has information on preparing for wandering and ways to prevent it.”

The impact of Alzheimer’s hits close to home for many Illinoisans. According to the association, Alzheimer’s affects more than a half million Illinoisans, including 210,000 people with the disease, plus family members and caregivers.“One in three Americans knows someone with Alzheimer’s, one in 10 has a family member with the disease, and one in 10 of us is an Alzheimer caregiver,” Chavin said. “In addition, most people with Alzheimer’s live at home (family and friends provide most of the care), and people live with the disease for eight years on average, with the range being three to 20 years.”

The Alzheimer’s Association—Greater Illinois Chapter serves 68 counties in Illinois with offices in Bloomington, Carterville, Chicago, Joliet, Rockford, Skokie and Springfield. For more information, visit or call the 24-hour Helpline at (800) 272-3900.

From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue

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