Communication is key in offering support to seniors and caregivers during the holiday

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Celebrating the holidays are bringing new challenges amid the regional and county stay at home orders. Individuals living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and their caregivers may especially experience heightened frustrations.

“Our caregivers are isolated even when there isn’t a pandemic. Now, they are more isolated,” said Alexandra Castillo-Weisgerber, Director of Care and Support for the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California.

According to Castillo-Weisgerber, many adult day centers are closed, and some individuals are not accepting outside services for fear of the coronavirus coming into their home. Caregivers and families are having to look at new ways of offering care and support through the pandemic and celebrating the holidays this month.

She advised caregivers to reach out to family members to communicate and to start conversations about how they can best support their loved one, as well as what kind of support they need themselves.

“It’s being able to have those conversations,” Castillo-Weisgerber said. “While people mean well, it’s important to familiarize friends and family with the situation.”

Letting immediate family and friends know about changes, needs, gift ideas or how they can help to support can help to prepare them for in-person or virtual interactions.

She also noted the importance of making sure to include the individual in holiday traditions. Involving individuals living with dementia helps them to feel engaged with the traditions and brings a feeling of purpose.

“It’s important to engage them with the traditions that they love and enjoy,” Castillo-Weisgerber said. “It’s most important that they still feel that purpose and meaning, and that they have contributed.”

She also stressed the importance of caregivers taking time to care for themselves. This includes asking for someone to help so they can take a shower, accepting help with meals or accepting dropped off meals, or even to get out of the house for an hour.

“Get the support. There’s a lot of resources available,” Castillo-Weisgerber said. “During this time give yourself permission with the changes that are happening and to get the support to talk to someone about it.”

The Alzheimer’s Association recently shared tips to help families celebrate the holiday season safely. 

Tips for in-person holiday celebrations:

  • Celebrate smart. Celebrate safely. 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 family members 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. 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 bundling up and going on a neighborhood walk with immediate family members.

Support Resources
Caregivers and seniors are able to reach out for help on the Alzheimer’s Association’s free 24 hour helpline. Castillo-Weisgerber said that while the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to serve all cognitive impairments and support for caregivers, individuals can call the helpline if they’re not sure why they need to call, but need to talk to someone.

Caregivers can call for any stresses related to being a caregiver, and for help and support on new behaviors or situations that they aren’t sure on how to handle.

The free 24 hour helpline can be reached at 1-800-272-3900.

More information about support and resources for individuals experiencing cognitive impairments or their caregivers can be found online at https://www.alz.org/norcal.

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