The holiday season can be a fun but stressful time of year, but families caring for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia face extra stress for a variety of reasons.
“Dementia can cause a person’s behavior to change in unexpected ways. Often this can occur when routines are disrupted, more people than is typical are present, or there is extra noise or hubbub — all things that usually coincide with the holidays. Holidays may look different this year due to COVID, but as we find new ways to connect with loved ones while staying safe, it’s important to think about the person with dementia. We can help you figure out what some common behaviors might mean, how they might be triggered, and how to respond so everyone can enjoy the holidays and avoid stress,” said Eileen Hendriksen, LMSW, Care Consultant & Director of Early Stage Services for the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter.
As COVID-19 surges across the country, families are struggling with decisions about the holiday season — weighing concerns about the safety of traveling and 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 are even harder, especially since many have forgone visits with grandparents, parentsand other older relatives since COVID-19 began. The emotional pull to see and spend time with these loved ones during the holiday season is felt very keenly.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following tips for families with loved ones living with dementia:
• Schedule a family Zoom or FaceTime to talk about holiday celebrations and visiting a loved one with dementia. If there is a family member serving as the primary caregiver for the loved one, be sure to include them in the discussion. If the person with dementia is in the early stages and can understand the situation, they should also be included.
• Check the CDC website — cdc.gov — for COVID19 guidelines on visits with individuals deemed higher risk/vulnerable.
• Think about what is best for the person with dementia and assess the risks of various options for family gatherings and in-person visits.
• Reach a consensus and make decisions for the holidays that everyone supports.
• Map out how you’ll celebrate the season and divide up responsibilities to make it happen.
• If you decide on a virtual celebration, learn what kind of device is being used by the person with the disease and their caregiver. It may be necessary for the family to consider purchasing a new, updated device to make viewing and participation in virtual activities more enjoyable. (This could be a joint family holiday gift for the loved one.)
• To ensure the person with the disease and their caregiver are able to participate in virtual events, arrange for training. For instance, seniorplanet.org is a nonprofit that offers free videos and classes for seniors to learn technology.
• Identify one or two family members who can serve as the point people to coordinate the details and logistics of various virtual activities.
Tips for safe in-person visits:
• Avoid or minimize any type of travel for the person with dementia during this busy travel season. Even car trips present risks, such as rest stops and restaurants.
• Restrict the number of individuals who visit during the holidays.
• Be sure any visitors fully commit to following the guidelines — both pre-visit and during the visit — such as quarantining for the appropriate time period before visiting, wearing a mask and maintaining safe social distancing during the visit, etc.
• Make sure your loved one with dementia wears a mask when visitors are in the home. If they refuse or are unable to wear a mask, maintain social distance in a well-ventilated area and ensure everyone else is wearing a mask.
• Consider having one family member be the official holiday helper for your loved one with dementia. This should be someone who practices social distancing on a regular basis and is able to commit fully to the necessary safety precautions. If another relative serves as the loved one’s primary caregiver, the official holiday helper could provide much needed assistance and respite for them.
If the loved one with dementia lives in a facility, here are some other things to consider:
• Check into the policies for visiting on the specific holidays.
• If you need to sign up for visits on the holidays, be sure to do that as soon aspossible.
• Inquire about the community’s plans for the holiday season, such asactivities and decorations.
• Ask if presents or food itemscan be sent to residents.
• Find out if there areaudio-visual capabilities in yourloved one’s room or whether theyhave access to communityequipment. Then consider sendingthem a mobile tablet and/or smallCD player and also holiday songlists or classic movies.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 Helpline to help caregivers any time they are feeling overwhelmed or need someone to talk to. Virtual support groups and other programs are available. Visit alz.org/hudsonvalley to learn more.
About the Hudson Valley Chapter
The Hudson Valley Chapter serves families living with dementia in seven counties in New York, including Duchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester. To learn more about the programs and services offered locally, visit alz.org/hudsonvalley.
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association leads 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. Its vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all dementia. Visit alz.org