Alzheimer’s and the Holidays, Part 2 – Decorating

Previously, we shared some tips for making holiday meals less stressful for dementia caregivers and the ones they care for.

As mentioned, the holidays can create a myriad of issues on their own, but add those to the responsibilities of care-giving and it can easily be to much.  Throughout this holiday season, we will continue to provide helpful tips and suggestions for making these special times safe and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Now that we have all survived the first big event, Thanksgiving, it’s time to discuss holiday decorations.  Although this is true for all holidays, Christmas has become the dominant leader in the decoration department.  There was a time when most families didn’t put a tree until Christmas Eve.

Today, the stores, and some homes, are decked out before Halloween has even come.  Regardless, the rules and suggestions that follow apply to all decorating as well as general home safety for those living with and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

Secure all electrical cords.  Avoiding falls is one of the most important things that can be done to safeguard a home for someone with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s.  In addition to all of the extra electrical cords that accompany the many lights, figures, signs, etc… there will, undoubtedly be a need for extension cords, either inside, outside or both.  All cords should be kept out of traffic areas and paths, such as behind furniture or flush with walls.baseboards.  Avoid placing the cords under rugs or carpets as this will create a bump that will, most likely, be undetectable to a person with Alzheimer’s, causing them to trip and fall.

Refrain from using fake fruit or treats.  For those with dementia, problems with visual perception and processing can be common.  Decorations that resemble fruit, cookies, candies and such can easily be mistaken for the real thing.  This can result in cuts to the mouth and even choking.

Use cool-to-the-touch lighting.  As mentioned above, there are countless decorations that light up.  Depending on the bulb used, some can become very hot.  The smaller, “twinkle” lights that have become popular over the years do not give off much, if any, heat.  However, the older, larger, ceramic bulbs have become popular again for those trying to create a retro feel.  These bulbs can get extremely hot and cause burns to someone with dementia who may no longer be able to sense hot or cold.  These bulbs can also start fires if broken.

Don’t overdo it.  A common theme in America these days is “bigger is better”, especially at the holidays.  Crowding the home with a lot of decorations and lights can prove to be overwhelming for someone with Alzheimer’s.  Depending on what stage of the disease they are in, an over decorated environment may cause stress and anxiety which can lead to behavioral issues.  It can also lead to confusion and accidents.

Use familiar decorations.  It is always a good idea to use keepsakes and mementos to make the home feel more comfortable for the person with Alzheimer’s. Using old, family decorations or new decorations with an “older” feel can help trigger memories and feelings of the holidays.

Bake to create familiar holiday scents.  For the same reasons you should avoid fake food decorations, avoid using scented candles and potpourri which could be mistaken as food and ingested.  Especially refrain from using the newer scented lamps that rely on a bulb to melt wax.  Between the cord, the hot bulb and the liquefied hot wax that smells like apple pie these lamps can be very dangerous.  However, do not disregard the power of smell.   Research has shown that smell is the strongest sense when it comes to memory.  Baking classic holiday treats will fill the home with familiar aromas that are not only comforting but may also help increase the appetite.

Veteran caregivers understand the importance of planning ahead in day to day care-giving.  It becomes more important during special events and holidays.  We hope that these tips and suggestions will help make everyone’s holiday season a safe and enjoyable one.



Natalie Pic

Meet the Author


Natalie has compiled over eighteen years experience providing outstanding care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to being a certified Alzheimer’s and dementia care trainer, McFarland is a licensed continued education instructor for nurses and social workers through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations. She has also developed several Alzheimer’s research partnerships. Included in those projects were Dr. Virginia Cruz, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor of SIUE and Dr. George Grossberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Saint Louis University. Natalie is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.