Staying Safe and Joyful: Tips for a Dementia-Friendly Holiday Celebration from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
With the holiday season in full swing, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing tips on how families affected by Alzheimer’s disease can adapt holiday gatherings to make them safe and dementia-friendly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After the challenges of 2020, many families are really looking forward to some holiday cheer,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s President & CEO. “There are simple steps families can take to make the holidays enjoyable, safe and dementia-friendly for their loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Families caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease should consider the following steps:
Before the celebration:
- Do not over-decorate/over-stimulate. Too many flickering lights or decorations can lead to overstimulation or disorientation, both of which can be challenging for someone living with dementia. Be aware of the person’s sensitivity to factors such as loud noises.
- Avoid safety hazards. Substitute electric candles for burning candles. If you light candles, do not leave them unattended. Avoid fragile decorations or decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats, such as artificial fruits. If you have a tree, secure it to a wall. Eliminate loose wires or floor clutter that can be a potential fall hazard.
- Keep the person involved in the season. Playing favorite holiday music at a low volume, wrapping gifts, holiday puzzles, decorating cookies or going outside with a blanket and hot chocolate (if it is cold) are great activities to involve the person in the holiday season.
- Adapt past favorite traditions or create new ones. If the person used to do all the holiday cooking, make it a new tradition to cook together as a family. If they oversaw hanging holiday lights, make it a group effort. To the most practical extent possible, ask the person what traditions are important to them, so you can prioritize and plan, focusing on what they enjoy and are able to do.
- Be open with loved ones. Make sure family/friends who will be part of the celebration understand the disease and if it has progressed since they last saw the person (this is especially important for those who do not see that individual regularly). This will enable them to be more helpful and supportive. Provide tips for communicating and interacting with the person. Suggest appropriate gifts (i.e., clothing that is easy to put on/remove).
During the celebration:
- Maintain the person’s normal routine. Changes in daily routine can cause challenges and stress for someone living with dementia. Planning can be the key to ensuring a person’s comfort. 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.
- Connect with loved ones through technology. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that the safest way to celebrate during the COVID-19 pandemic is at home with the people who live with you— larger gatherings increase the risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus. However, you can involve loved ones who would normally be present at an in-person celebration using digital platforms like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype— to converse, play games, sing songs, and open gifts together virtually. Spending time with loved ones is what the holidays are all about- let technology help!
- 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 (with at least 60% alcohol). If someone is delivering a care package/gifts or you are ordering food from a restaurant, have the delivery left at your doorstep.
- Be positive. Focus on what you and the person can do and the pleasure of connecting in whatever form possible with family and friends.
Families who have questions or would like additional information can contact AFA’s Helpline at 866-232-8484 or through AFA’s website, www.alzfdn.org, and speak with a licensed social worker. The helpline is open seven days a week.