Safe holiday tips for Michiganders impacted by dementia
The holidays are supposed to be a special time for getting together with family and friends, but the risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 is even greater for individuals living with dementia, who tend to be older and have underlying health conditions.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has put into place new restrictions that limit indoor gatherings, the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter stresses the importance of providing persons with dementia and their caregivers alternative ways to stay socially connected over the holidays.
“Usually, we talk to people about adjusting expectations to reduce feelings of stress for both the person living with dementia and their families around the holidays,” said Melanie Baird, Alzheimer’s Association vice president of programs. “This year, due to COVID-19 and Michigan’s newly announced restrictions, the holidays may prove even more difficult. While we all want to celebrate with those we care about, it is so important to follow safety guidelines to make sure everyone stays healthy, both physically and emotionally, throughout the holiday season. That’s why it’s more important than ever to support those impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia in other ways.”
In Michigan alone, there are more than 190,000 people living with Alzheimer’s and more than 518,000 caregivers, who last year provided a total of 590 million hours of unpaid care, valued at a total of $7.7 billion.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter, ideas for how to safely engage with family and friends during the holidays include:
Celebrate while physically distancing.
¯ Continue holiday traditions by dropping 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 with homemade signs or other festive decorations.
¯ Weather permitting, plan an outdoor visit with hot chocolate and blankets.
¯ Go outside for a walk in the neighborhood to enjoy holiday lights and decorations.
¯ Create and send holiday cards.
Connect through technology.
¯ Use video call software like Zoom or Skype to gather virtually.
¯ Play a trivia game, sing carols or share pictures from past gatherings.
¯ Use video to capture and digitally send special moments.
¯ Plan a video call to cook or bake a special recipe together.
¯ Record and send a “video holiday card” that includes personalized messages.
¯ Schedule a time to watch a favorite holiday movie together from separate homes. Text or video chat while you watch.
If your loved one struggles with technology, ask a primary caregiver — or staff in an assisted living facility — if they can help 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.
If you choose to include older adults in an in-person holiday gathering, it is critical to weigh the risks to their health. Even when precautions are taken, close contact with anyone outside of your household increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. Please consider the following if you choose to include older adults in a face-to-face gathering:
¯ Do not attend or host a gathering if you have been (or think you have been) exposed to COVID-19.
¯ Ask attendees to wash or sanitize their hands regularly, wear masks and maintain six feet of distance between one another.
¯ Shorten the duration of the event or limit the amount of time older adults will be in attendance.
¯ Avoid hugging, handshakes and close contact of any kind.
¯ Limit the number of people at the event, per MDHHS guidelines.
¯ Encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and members of their household only. If food will be served, avoid buffet and family-style meals in which many people handle serving dishes and utensils. Instead, designate one person to plate dinner. Also, consider creative seating options that will help guests practice physical distancing.
¯ Consider the levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community where the event is being held.
¯ When making holiday plans, consider 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.
¯ Take care of yourself. The current COVID-19 crisis is creating challenges that can feel overwhelming for many families impacted by dementia. It’s more important than ever to take care of your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
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. The association’s vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. To learn more, visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.