The holidays are traditionally a special time for getting together with family and friends. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges for in-person social events, posing a heightened risk of spreading the virus—especially for older adults. Many families want to continue their traditions, but as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, their celebrations may need to look a bit different. And this is especially true for families with members facing Dementia Caregivers Face New Challenges This Holiday Season or Alzheimer’s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter, the risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 is greater for individuals living with dementia, who tend to be older and have underlying health conditions. The safest option is for people to avoid in-person holiday gatherings with anyone outside of their households, but to stay engaged in other ways.
“It’s more important than ever to stay socially connected to your loved ones,” said Jenna Fink, senior community services manager with the Alzheimer’s Association. As someone who works with families impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s, she seen the problems with isolation and caregiving stress firsthand. “This year is so challenging for caregivers. Some are unable to see their loved ones in long-term care facilities, and others are caring for those with Alzheimer’s 24/7, with no break of any kind because so many programs have had to shut down during the pandemic.”
Still, Fink and the Alzheimer’s Association have tips to make this year’s holiday season special:
- Keep those important holiday traditions. Routine is extremely important for a person with dementia.
- Drop off favorite baked goods or a care package in a way that avoids close contact, such as leaving the special delivery at the person’s front door.
- Schedule your own “holiday parade” and ask family members and friends to drive by the older adult’s home or long-term care facility with homemade signs or other festive decorations.
- Create and send holiday cards.
- Plan outdoor visits with hot chocolate and blankets.
- Take in holiday lights and decorations through a walk or a drive.
- Use technology to connect with family and friends through video calls on Zoom or Skype.
- Schedule a time to watch a favorite holiday movie together from separate homes. Text or video chat while you watch.
“It helps to create some structure to a video call,” said Fink. “It’s fun to add a trivia game, sing holiday carols, watch children opening gifts or share photos from past gatherings. Or using video to cook together is another way to share an experience.”
If your loved one struggles with technology, ask a primary caregiver—or staff in an assisted living facility—if they might be able to facilitate a video call. If that’s not possible, connecting with a simple phone call goes a long way toward feeling together on the holidays.
Large gatherings, of course, are not recommended because of the pandemic, and travel increases the likelihood of spreading or contracting COVID-19, an important consideration this year. If a small gathering is planned, practice physical distancing and mask-wearing.
“When making holiday plans, take into account what will be most comfortable and enjoyable for the person living with dementia,” Fink added. “Sticking to his or her normal routine as much as possible will help keep the celebrations from becoming disruptive or confusing.”
The Alzheimer’s Association also advises that caregivers make a priority of taking care of themselves this season. Heidi Haley-Franklin, Vice President of Programs at the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter, recommends that caregivers ask for help and a break when they need it.
“It is really important to take care of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as a caregiver,” Haley-Franklin said. “Create list of things you need help with, so you’re prepared if a family member or neighbor asks how they can lend a hand this holiday season. Perhaps they can help with grocery shopping, or maybe they’re willing to help to prepare part of the meal, or put up the outdoor decorations.”