With the emergence of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this spring, families and friends will be gathering together for the holidays for what is likely the first time in two years. But even with the vaccine available, families may still be wondering how to keep their vulnerable relatives safe during this time. It’s known that family gatherings are a meaningful event for both the loved one with Alzheimer’s and their family members, yet large groups can be overwhelming. Here are some ways for families to help their loved ones safely navigate the holidays this year.
Have A Plan
As a family, decide what you want your holiday season to look like. Perhaps you would like to try to gather in person this year, or maybe your family will agree to keep it virtual again. Whichever you choose, be sure to plan early. Knowing how many people will be involved, where they will be staying, and when they are coming and leaving will relieve stress on family members as well as loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
Determine what time of day your family member with Alzheimer’s does the best. Planning the gathering around this time may help to avoid discomfort. Additionally, involving family members with dementia in as many of the plans as possible can ease stress and confusion.
The Alzheimer’s Association mentions that it’s a good idea to prepare guests for the behavior and memory changes they might witness in their loved one with Alzheimer’s. These changes may be less obvious or more noticeable, depending on the stage of the dementia. Difficulty following conversations, repeating themselves, trouble finishing thoughts, or even more severe cognitive deficits may be apparent. If it’s been a while since relatives have seen this loved one, the new changes could be startling. Remind them to be kind, patient, and to avoid interrupting or correcting the loved one with dementia.
If gathering in-person, it may be useful to inquire about the vaccination status of visiting relatives. Mask-wearing and regular hand-washing will add an extra layer of protection, as well as maintaining six feet of distance. Limiting the number of guests at the gathering can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Whatever plan your family decides on, make sure to communicate it early with attending guests and relatives.
Stick To A Routine
Following a daily routine lessens agitation and boosts mood in loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Keeping this up during the holidays when days can be hectic may help prevent excess stress. This doesn’t mean you have to be rigid and inflexible, but making sure to add a few familiar activities (especially their morning and night routine) will balance out the daily hustle and bustle.
During the family gathering, having a quiet place for a loved one with dementia to go decompress if they need to is highly recommended. This would also be a great space for them to have some one-on-one time with relatives, away from other noisy conversations.
If your holiday requires you to gather outside the home, keep the outing brief or arrange to leave early, if necessary.
Keep It Simple
According to The Dent Neurologic Institute, lavish, bright, or blinking decorations can be confusing for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Keep decorations minimal to avoid any upset. Bypass artificial fruits and vegetables as they may be mistaken for real food.
Schedule phone calls, Zoom meetings, or FaceTime with relatives to reduce the number of people at the gathering. Encourage friends and family members to drive by and drop off food or gifts instead of coming into the home. Not only will this help lower the spread of COVID-19, but it can reduce overwhelm as well.
Make Your Time Together Worthwhile
Involve the family member with dementia in the holiday activities as much as possible. Put on some soft and calming music to listen to while you gather. Have them help cook or bake desserts. They may enjoy crafting or making holiday cards and decorations. Wrapping gifts is also a great way to spend time together as a family. Most experts agree to focus on the task rather than the outcome.
Keep old family traditions alive and adjust them to fit the comfort level of the loved one with Alzheimer’s or create new ones together if needed.
Some adjustments may be necessary and accommodations will be made, but being together during the holidays will be meaningful for everyone involved.
Virtual Gatherings Can Still Be Special
Perhaps your family member with Alzheimer’s lives in a nursing home that isn’t allowing many visitors, or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable enough to gather in person yet. Meeting virtually can still be a memorable and personal experience for families.
The Alzheimer’s Association has some great tips for hosting a virtual holiday. Zoom or Skype is an easy way to connect with multiple relatives at once. You can use these platforms to do holiday activities like opening cards and gifts together. Videos can be recorded of different holiday happenings and sent to a family group chat or text message.
The Dent Neurologic Institute suggests scheduling a time to watch your favorite holiday movie together and call or text each other while you watch. Bake special recipes or eat a meal together virtually. Games are also a fun way to interact through screens.
Sometimes, it may take a little creativity and thinking outside the box to make sure the holidays are a special time for loved ones with dementia and their families. But no matter how you decide to celebrate the holidays this year, being together however you can is always time well spent.