Holiday Visitors When a Loved One has Dementia

A senior couple with the male looking confusedDear Kirsten:

My father moved in with us this year. He was diagnosed a few years ago with early Alzheimer’s disease and the disease has progressed to the point where he is no longer safe living at home alone. My husband’s family has always come to stay with us between Christmas and the new year. They are a very boisterous crowd and I’m worried it will create agitation and even aggression in my dad. What can we do to help keep things on an even keel with so many extra people in the house?

Debra in Loveland, Colorado

Dear Debra:

It sounds like you know overstimulation often leads to agitation. It is a very common behavior for people living with Alzheimer’s because of the damage the disease causes to their brain. There is also recent evidence that seems to indicate men with Alzheimer’s are more prone to aggression.

There are a few steps you can take before your in-laws visit this holiday season that may help:

  • Educate your husband’s family on what to expect. It might be in a simple email, by phone, or both. Let them know that raised voices, too much activity, and overstimulation are hard for him to process.
  • Share some of the best ways to communicate with your father. For example, let them know to approach him from the front while softly saying his name so he isn’t startled. Because Alzheimer’s disease often damages peripheral vision, having someone suddenly appear in front of them when they didn’t hear or see them coming can trigger aggressive behavior such as striking out.
  • Make them aware that your father may pace if he is agitated and it is important to let him do so. Keeping pathways clear of shoes, suitcases, and other clutter that may be more common when the house has extra people is important.
  • Explain to your visitors what boundaries you have set for where your father can and can’t go on his own, especially if he can’t go outside without supervision.
  • Make sure your father’s room is kept in a quiet place. He will need to be able to retreat to a quiet space if things get too loud in the house. Have soft music ready to play for him and some “jobs” he can do to help reduce agitation. It might be a basket of towels he can fold or an activity box filled with “job related” items he used when he was employed.

Finally, encourage your visitors to interact with your father and not make him feel isolated or ostracized. He may need a little extra care and understanding, but he also needs to be included whenever possible.

To learn more, Alzheimer’s Weekly has a quick guide, “Visitors on the Holidays,” you can read. It might even help to email it to your husband’s family prior to their holiday visit.


Need more advice on caring for your loved one with Dementia? Contact us at 970.204.6977 today! From personal care needs and case management to guardianship concerns, Seniors in Transition provides consulting services to help families turn frustrating health care problems into quality, affordable solutions. Seniors in Transition is here to help families in the Fort Collins, CO and Loveland, CO areas.

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