Creating a Dementia-Friendly “Happy Thanksgiving” Celebration for a Loved One Living with Alzheimer’s During COVID-19
(November 23, 2020)— COVID-19 continues to impact all facets of life, including how families celebrate Thanksgiving. With governmental health agencies recommending limited in-person gatherings on Thanksgiving to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering tips on creating a dementia-friendly Thanksgiving celebration for families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease during the pandemic.
“Thanksgiving is all about being together with loved ones, but like almost every other facet of daily life, celebrations need to be adapted this year because of COVID-19,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s president and CEO. “There are ways that families living with Alzheimer’s disease can adjust their celebrations in a dementia-friendly manner to protect their loved ones while still connecting with family and friends.”
Families caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease should consider the following steps:
- Keep in-person holiday gatherings small. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is at home with the people who you live with— gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.
- Practice COVID prevention protocol. If family or friends want to stop by for a brief visit, meet them outside the house, maintain recommended social distancing (six feet or greater) and wear masks. Avoid hugging, shaking hands or any other close contact. Wash hands often or use hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol). If someone is delivering a care package or you are ordering food from a restaurant, have the delivery left at the door.
- Connect with loved ones through video chat platforms. Involve loved ones who would normally be present at an in-person celebration using digital platforms like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype— converse, play games, sing songs, and celebrate together through technology!
- Build on past traditions and find new ways to connect. Activities like looking through old photo albums, singing favorite songs or partaking in familiar traditions (wherever possible) are both fun and forms of reminiscence therapy, which can aid memory recall, reduces stress and bring joy. You can also create new traditions; find things they are able to do and enjoy, such as listening to music, making signs and pictures, helping with the meal preparation, watching sports and movies at homes, and spend time doing these activities with them. To the greatest extent possible, ask the person what traditions are important to them, so you can prioritize and plan.
- Keep them involved. Find ways to maintain the person’s involvement in the holiday celebration. If they are used to doing the holiday cooking, keep them involved by inviting them into the preparation process. If they enjoyed music, play some of their favorite holiday songs or ones from their favorite era.
- Be sensitive to the individual’s needs. Try to maintain the person’s normal routine as much as possible. If the person usually takes an afternoon walk, build in time for that. If they go to bed earlier in the evening, hold the celebration earlier in the day so that everyone can participate. Have comforting items and activities available to help. Also, make sure that the individual is well rested. If your loved one becomes agitated, help to identify the unmet need.
- Be open. Consider sharing beneficial information with family and friends regarding the person’s health prior to a gathering, especially with those who do not see that individual regularly. This will enable them to understand where the person may be in the disease progression, so that they know how they can be helpful and supportive.
Families who have questions or would like additional information can speak with a licensed social worker through AFA’s Helpline by calling 866-232-8484 or via web chat through AFA’s website, www.alzfdn.org. The helpline is open seven days a week.