Navigating the holidays for families affected by Alzheimer’s

Navigating the holidays for families affected by Alzheimer’s
Surviving the holidays in 2020 (Source: Alzheimer's Association)

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — The holiday season amid the pandemic is especially difficult for families affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Individuals living with dementia are at a higher risk,” said Annette Clark, the family services director of the Central and Western Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “So, whether they are in the home or whether they are in a facility it’s important to assess risk.”

This year, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging families to connect with loved ones virtually. Many families want to continue their traditions, but with COVID-19, those traditions may need to look a bit different.

For families with a loved one in a facility, Clark recommends doing a drive-by parade, meeting up with your loved one outside, going on a walk, or bringing by their favorite food.

“If they have their loved one in the home, they might very much want to keep the traditions,” Clark said. “Keeping routine is extremely important for a person with dementia.”

Having large gatherings are not recommended this holiday season due to the pandemic, but Clark said larger gatherings can also be overwhelming for people living with dementia.

“Moving to smaller gatherings throughout the week or moving the time of that meal maybe to a brunch or a breakfast instead of having something late in the evening,” Clark suggested.

Keeping your loved one engaged in the traditions is also very important.

“People living with dementia retain memories from the past long into the disease process, so they very much remember those traditions of decorating the tree or cooking the turkey for the holiday,” Clark said.

Clark reminds caregivers that they are not alone, and it is OK to ask for help.

“We always tell caregivers to not try to be that superhero. Even heroes need help every now and then,” Clark said.

She recommends having a list of things you need help with if a family member or neighbor asks how they can lend a hand this holiday season.

“Maybe they can do that grocery shopping for you, or maybe they’re willing to help to prepare part of the meal, or maybe they’re willing to help put up the outdoor decorations,” Clark said.

The Alzheimer’s Association Helpline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-800-272-3900.

They are also hosting a virtual conversation for caregivers to participate in on December 1 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

“We’re going to do a little bit of a deeper dive into surviving the holidays,” Clark said.

You can learn more at alz.org.

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