5 holiday tips for families of people with Alzheimer's

The Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I. is offering some tips to families and caregivers of people with dementia to help make the holiday season less stressful.

Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I. recommends short visits, familiar surroundings and gifts for daily tasks

Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society of P.E.I., recommends building sensory baskets for people with Alzheimer's full of gifts that will appeal to their senses, like touch and smell. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

The Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I. is offering some tips to families and caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and dementia to help make the holiday season less stressful. 

1. Sensory baskets 

When it comes to gifts, Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw, CEO of the Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I., recommends creating a basket of sensory items for an individual with Alzheimer's or dementia, full of things that will appeal their senses. 

'It’s important to keep in mind that the individual is still there and to be mindful of the things that you have a connection to them with,' says Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw. 'Bring in some things that are important to them over the years.' (Brittany Spencer/CBC )

"It could be a photo album of memories, it could be newspaper clippings, it's great to have an iPod and headphones so that their genre of music is in that little basket," Hendricken-Eldershaw said.

Other items to include could be stuffed animals or soft blankets, knitted mittens, soaps and lotions. She also recommends creating a fidget blanket, which is a blanket with several different tactile elements, including buttons, ribbons, or tassels, that a person can play with.    

2. Practical gifts

Another set of gift ideas include items that can help a person with Alzheimer's with daily tasks, Hendricken-Eldershaw said.

"Simple things like Post-It notes, having a whiteboard that has information that they might be repeating or inquiring about that's posted somewhere for them to be able to take a look at is always helpful," she said. 

Other helpful gift ideas include simple or universal remote controls with only one or two buttons, phones with large buttons or photo-assigned buttons and iPads or tablets. 

Practical gifts, including whiteboards, Post-It notes and phones with large buttons or photo-assigned buttons can help people with Alzheimer's or dementia with daily tasks. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

There are also many gifts that can be useful for helping people stay mentally and physically active, said Hendricken-Eldershaw. She recommends gifting crosswords or sudoku puzzles with large print, puzzles and memory card games. If people are able to be physically active, gifts like small weights or FitBits can be a good way to keep people moving and measure their health, she added. 

3. Plan smaller, shorter gatherings

People living with Alzheimer's or dementia can be very sensitive to levels of noise or stimulation around them, Hendricken-Eldershaw said.

She advises people to try to keep celebrations short or consider bringing a person with dementia to a more meaningful part of an event, including short meals or a church service. 

"It doesn't need to be all day that they're with you," Hendricken-Eldershaw said. "But a window of time and within that window of time we try to be mindful of what will be helpful."

She also advises people to make sure there is a quiet space away from the celebration where a person can go to take a break or visit with a smaller number of people.

4. Create engaging activities 

Creating engaging or familiar activities can help people with Alzheimer's or dementia feel more comfortable during holiday celebrations, Hendricken-Eldershaw said.

"When you think of engaging activities, go back to your checkerboards, your dominos, your cards," she said. "Bring in some things that are important to them over the years." 

The Alzheimer's Society of P.E.I. recommends including engaging activities, such as looking at photo albums, when celebrating the holidays with people with Alzheimer's or dementia. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

She also recommends looking through photo albums or playing familiar music to make a person with dementia more comfortable during visits. 

"People really enjoy those kinds of gatherings and things and it's in their long-term memory," she added. "So they're going to really enjoy that kind of activity over the holidays." 

5. Support caregivers

"We must remember that our caregivers are our moms, our dads, our brothers, our sisters," Hendricken-Eldershaw said. "Often we forget the caregiver in this whole journey."

She encouraged people to give caregivers opportunities to go out and do something for themselves over the holidays and offer help when you can.