While the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many people, the resulting isolation has been particularly challenging for those who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
“(The pandemic) has had a huge effect on families, especially those with family in long-term care,” said Kristen Hilty, a social worker and care consultant with the Springfield Alzheimer’s Association office. “They have been restricted from seeing their family members. There’s concern about isolation and how does that isolation affect the progression of the disease.”
“The people at home have equal concerns about isolation,” she said. “(They) are having to make hard decisions about who they are willing to bring in the home. Some family members have lost access to adult daycare because the daycares have closed or they just don’t feel comfortable with them going there anymore.”
With the holiday season upon us, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Missouri Chapter put together some tips and advice for families.
“A lot of our families are really taking these isolation measures to heart,” Hilty said. “We are trying to encourage them to seek out ways to get that connection, even if it’s virtually.”
Hilty’s first tip is to start planning now, if you haven’t already.
“Thanksgiving is obviously just right around the corner. Christmas is close behind,” said “Start making those plans now, a conference call with relatives and decide what you are going to do.”
Hilty said it’s important to come up with a way to celebrate the holidays virtually, especially when there are family members who are at high risk.
“Most of the individuals with dementia will be in that 65 and over category or individuals with comorbid conditions,” she said. “It’s what the CDC recommends, that you have Thanksgiving and Christmas with your own family members.”
If the loved one is in a long-term care facility that is allowing visits — either with limited numbers or outdoors — Hilty suggests scheduling those visits as early as possible.
It’s also important to remember caregivers this holiday season.
“There are a lot of ways you can support caregivers by calling them, asking them if you can do any online shopping for them,” she said. “You could help them throughout the year with some outdoor clean-up. Be creative in your virtual visit, but also be creative in ways to help caregivers that aren’t necessarily tangible presents.”
Here are more tips from the Alzheimer’s Association:
Prepare for the holidays
- Schedule a family Zoom or FaceTime to talk about upcoming holiday celebrations and visiting a loved one with dementia. If there is a family member serving as the primary caregiver, be sure to include them in discussion;
- Consult the CDC official COVID-19 guidelines for the latest recommendations on visits with individuals deemed higher risk and vulnerable;
- Think about what is best for the person with dementia and assess risks of various options for family gatherings and in-person visits;
- Reach a consensus among family members and make a decision that everyone supports;
- Map out how you’ll celebrate the season and divide up responsibilities and assignments to make it happen.
Plan for a virtual celebration
Find out the current device 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. (Note: This could be a joint family holiday gift.)
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 person to coordinate the details and logistics of the various virtual offerings.
Create a line-up of fun, entertaining and emotional video programs throughout the season. Here are some ideas:
- Cook favorite dishes together virtually in the days leading up to the holiday.
- Share the holiday meal by having the loved on and their caregiver join your family virtually.
- Recreate family rituals in the new virtual space by saying a special blessing or having everyone around the virtual table say what they are grateful for this year.
- Organize a series of musical performances where children play a musical instrument or sing holiday songs. These can be live or recorded.
- Schedule virtual baking sessions with the loved one during the holiday season.
- Introduce new holiday traditions virtually such as Couch Caroling or Gingerbread House Construction Competition.
- Play a family favorite game or find a new one to try over Zoom or FaceTime.
- Synchronize a virtual watch party of a cherished holiday movie via an online streaming service.
Here are some gift ideas for a loved one with dementia and a family caregiver:
- Make a holiday scrapbook full of photos from holidays and send that to the person with dementia prior to the holidays. This will help them to feel love and connected.
- Ask the caregiver for a gift list for the person with dementia and arrange for the items to be sent to the house.
- Ask the caregiver for their own gift list and have those sent to the house.
- Create a family video montage. Ask the family to record short clips and ask a tech-savvy family member to put it together.
- Encourage family and friends to give different gifts this year, such as weekly phone calls for the entire year or send a monthly card.
- Consider sending a monthly delivery of a home cooked or restaurant-purchased meal. Look into gift cards for household or yard work services.
Learn more at alz.org.