Alzheimer’s Association offers tips for holiday season
"When making holiday plans, take into account what will be most comfortable and enjoyable for the person living with dementia. Sticking to his or her normal routine as much as possible will help keep the celebrations from becoming disruptive or confusing," stated a senior manager of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating new challenges for in-person social events this holiday season, posing a heightened risk of spreading the virus — especially for older adults.
Families want to continue their traditions, but as COVID-19 cases in Minnesota continue to rise, their celebrations may need to look a bit different.
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,” Jenna Pogorels, senior program manager with the Alzheimer’s Association stated in a news release.
As someone who works with Minnesota families impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s, Pogorels has seen the problems with isolation and caregiving stress firsthand.
“This year is so challenging for caregivers,” she stated. “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, Pogorels 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,” stated Pogorels. “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,” Pogorels 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 caregivers to ask for help and a break when they need it.
“It is really important to take care of your physical, mental and emotional well-being as a caregiver,” Haley-Franklin stated. “Create a 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.”
The Alzheimer’s Association Helpline is also available day or night at 800-272-3900. The 24/7 Helpline is staffed in 200 languages, so support is just a phone call away.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Its mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. More information is available at alz.org .