Holidays especially challenging for those with Alzheimer's, dementia

It was Christmas Eve when Michelle Branham's grandmother got lost

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As many look forward to spending the holidays with family, this time of year can be especially challenging for people living with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Michelle Branham's 78-year-old grandmother was found three-and-a-half hours away in Tampa, when she ran out of gas and forgot to bring her wallet.

"She was at our house with my mom and we're having Christmas Eve dinner, and then she was going to go two miles down the road to my uncle's house," Branham said. "She never got there."

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Branham said her grandmother, Gloria, had no idea how long she'd been gone or what was happening. Gloria would later be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

The family had to change the way they celebrated the holidays with Gloria, bringing the children to her one at a time for some holiday bonding. Gloria made many great memories with family until she died in 2016.

She loved being around the kids and watching them open presents," Branham said. "My mom kept taking her out of her apartment and saying, 'She loves this, this is what she loves,' and the truth was, it was starting to get to a point where it was confusing and making her agitated and uncomfortable. So, I said, 'That's not what she can do anymore.'"

If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association had some suggestions to make the holidays more enjoyable for them. It suggests:

  • Coming up with activities and new traditions in smaller group settings.
  • Adapting your gift-giving. Create a photo album, make a video, or gift their favorite music or comfortable clothing.
  • When attending a holiday party or event, prepare the host for special needs like a quiet room for your family member to rest and get away from the noise and distractions. 

The Alzheimer's Association has a helpline available 24-7 by calling 1-800-272-3900.