opinion Newport Rhode Island

While holidays can be a joyous time for many families, they can be challenging for families affected by Alzheimer’s. The current COVID-19 crisis is adding even more complexities that can feel overwhelming for many families impacted by Alzheimer’s. While Alzheimer’s and dementia does not increase the risk of COVID-19, dementia-related behaviors, increased age and common health conditions that often accompany dementia, may increase risk. 

To help families navigate these challenges and provide a meaningful and enjoyable holiday season, the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island chapter is offering tips to help families plan appropriately for both in-person or virtual celebrations.

Tips for in-person holiday celebrations:

  • Celebrate smart. Celebrate safe. Consider smaller gatherings this year. If possible, opt for large, open settings that allow for social distancing. Encourage attendees to follow safety protocols during the celebration, including hand washing, and the use of hand sanitizer and masks, as appropriate. 
  • Take a person-centered approach. Focus on what is enjoyable for the person living with Alzheimer’s. Take time to experiment with new holiday traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit for your loved one. If they get overwhelmed in large groups, a small quiet gathering may be preferable. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. 
  • Keep it simple. Consider a celebration over a lunch or brunch at home or where the person is most comfortable. Instead of potluck-style gatherings, encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and members of that household only. 

Tips for virtual holiday celebrations:

  • Connect with your family member virtually. Schedule a FaceTime, Skype or Zoom call with your loved one and invite other family members to participate. Prepare ahead of time to ensure the platform you use is one everyone can access easily. Consider taking the call to the next level by conducting a holiday activity such as baking cookies, exchanging gifts or singing favorite holiday songs.  
  • Prepare a favorite holiday meal or dessert. The current COVID-19 crisis has offered many families more time to cook and prepare meals. Make plans to prepare your loved one’s favorite holiday meal or dessert. If you are unable to share the meal in-person, drop it off or have it delivered. 
  • Go for a holiday stroll. Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. If an extended indoor holiday celebration seems ill-advised, consider gathering immediate family for a neighborhood walk to soak in the season. Just remember to bundle up! 

Experts from the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island chapter are available to discuss these and other tips to help families celebrate the holiday season safely. We serve all of Rhode Island and help all those facing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by providing support groups and educational resources, while advancing crucial research and public policy initiatives. 

Our 24/7 Helpline (electronically accessible at https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/helpline) serves people with memory loss, caregivers, health care professionals and the public, providing reliable information and support to all those who need assistance. 

Call us toll-free anytime day or night at 800.272.3900. 

We wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving and holiday season.

David R. Carlin III 

Director of Public Policy and Communications 

Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island chapter