ABlogAbout: Remembering Alzheimers – ALZ and Holidays

This is another in the series of posts I created regarding my mother’s Alzheimer’s. It may not be Thanksgiving right now, but the information is always handy. Perhaps you have a family reunion coming up (I know I do!) or another large family function. Or, you just want to celebrate a birthday. Any way you look at it, events are tough in the ALZ world.

Holidays and Alzheimer’s

For years, my brother and I had an ongoing joke – or what we thought was a joke. It was “his mother” vs. “my mother.” We’d have conversations with her within days (or even on the same day), and our conversations would be completely different. “My mom” was upset, or didn’t feel good, while “his mom” was upbeat and felt fine. In some ways, this wasn’t too surprising. I grew up with my mom, while my bro grew up with Dad. We had very different relationships with her.

It was also not completely surprising – though it was sad – that for the past five years or so, she didn’t consistently send my brother a card on his birthday.

When she forgot my birthday, however, it was clear things were not right.

Holidays and celebrations are different now. Here are some things I’ve come to understand:

  1. Time has very little meaning for Mom. Just because she doesn’t remember a birthday doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. In fact, she cares very much, and telling her she’s forgotten is very upsetting to her. I feel thankful that she remembers me and the bond we share. I don’t need birthday cards or presents.
  2. It helps to reinforce the season, the month, even the day of the week. Talk about how cold it is this winter and it helps her understand why we are buying sweaters and not t-shirts.
  3. Just because she doesn’t know what day/month/season it is does NOT mean she doesn’t appreciate a good holiday. In fact, she gets quite excited about celebrations. A good 4th of July picnic or Halloween party can stay with her for days.
  4. Take lots of photos – Mom is visual and loves to look at photos. Put photos up where she can see them. Yes, she may ask who someone is, but telling her a story from a shared experience will often bring an emotion back, if not the memory.

While she loves them, celebrations are actually quite tricky. It’s easy for her to get over-stimulated. Adjust accordingly. For Thanksgiving we went to our extended family dinner (which Mom has never attended). The dinner usually includes about 40 people. Here’s what we did:

  1. Spoke to my cousin in advance to explain the situation and make sure the environment and impact of having her would be okay.
  2. Arranged for mom to sit in a quieter part of the house
  3. Subtly introduced family members (“Mom, how long has it been since you’ve seen Joe? 15 years? Look at how grown up he is!”)
  4. Someone stayed with her. Being with one of “her people” helped to stave off the anxiety of over-stimulation and disorientation.
  5. We kept the visit short. Did I want pie? Of course. But it was much more important that my mom get back into a calmer environment as quickly as possible, as soon as she started to become anxious. There will always be pie. There will not always be holidays with my mom.

Here are some additional thoughts about the holidays from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to leave Mom out of the festivities. But there are a lot of ways to celebrate, and there are lots of ways that she can participate. Our lives are richer when we are able to come together for something FUN. It’s tempting to just wallow in the sadness of the situation or the day-to-day frustrations. That’s just a waste of our precious time together.

Peace all. Here’s to celebrations!

Alzheimer’s Association – Alzheimer’s & Dementia Help Center


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