With COVID-19 surging across the country, families are struggling with decisions about the upcoming holiday season — weighing concerns about the safety of gathering with the desire to spend time with friends and relatives. For families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, these decisions can feel overwhelming. To help families navigate these challenges and provide a meaningful and enjoyable holiday season, the Alzheimer’s Association is offering tips to help families plan appropriately for upcoming celebrations.
“The emotional pull to spend time with our loved ones is felt very keenly during the holidays, especially after the isolation so many of us have experienced during the pandemic,” said Cindy Alewine, President/CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association South Carolina Chapter. “We hope that these suggestions will help families with their decision-making when it comes to safely engaging with their loved ones with dementia over the holidays.”
Tips for celebrating safely in-person:
● Remind every one of best practices for safety. Encourage all attendees to follow safety protocols during the celebration, including hand washing, and the use of hand sanitizer and masks, as appropriate. If your loved one has trouble remembering key precautions, gently remind them that a virus is going around and demonstrate practices like mask-wearing and thorough hand-washing.
● Celebrate smart. Consider smaller gatherings this year. People living with dementia often feel overwhelmed in large groups, so a small quiet gathering may actually be preferable for them. If possible, opt for large, open settings that allow for social distancing.
● Go for a holiday stroll. Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. If the weather is nice, consider gathering immediate family for a neighborhood walk to soak in the season.
● Avoid or minimize travel for the person with dementia. As COVID numbers continue to rise, any type of travel increases possible exposure for your loved one. Even car trips present risks at rest stops and restaurants, particularly if the person with dementia does not understand the need for precautions.
Tips for celebrating while apart:
● Connect with your family member virtually. Schedule a virtual call with your loved one and invite other family members to participate. Prepare ahead of time to ensure that the platform you use is one everyone can access easily. Take the call to the next level by sharing holiday activities, like singing or opening gifts.
● Prepare a favorite holiday meal or dessert. The current COVID-19 crisis has offered families more time to cook at home. Prepare your loved one’s favorite holiday meal or dessert to drop off or have it delivered.
● Have one family member be the official holiday helper. If possible, designate one family member to provide much-needed assistance to the primary caregiver and to spend time visiting the person with dementia. This should be someone who practices social distancing routinely and commits to the safety precautions to keep your loved one safe.
Tips to make the holidays meaningful for a loved one in a long-term care community:
• Find out about in-person and virtual visitation policies. Contact your loved one’s community to learn their current practices for visits, which may depend on their COVID status and staff capacity. If you need to sign up for limited timeslots, do so as soon as possible.
• Ask if presents or food items can be sent or dropped off for your loved one. If so, send favorite holiday goodies, a holiday scrapbook for reminiscing or practical gifts to ensure your family member’s comfort.
• Inquire about the community’s plans for the holiday season. Even if traditional visits are not possible, the community may have festive activities, decorations and/or classic movies planned to make the season brighter.
For additional ideas on how to prepare for the holidays, visit alz.org/sc or call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. Care consultants are available throughout the holiday season to listen to callers’ needs, help them develop an action plan and connect them with local programs for reliable information and support.