Q: My mother lives with me and she has dementia. How can I find ways to make the holiday season special even though we cannot have the rest of the family visit due to the pandemic?
A: Navigating the holidays with someone with dementia may require some adjustments to make things go smoothly. This year, because of pandemic, you may not be able to have the usual gatherings that prompt such fond memories of the holidays. It is time to think of other ways to still include the aspects of the holidays that are most important.
Ask your mother what her favorite holiday memories are. If she can share them with you this can be your guide on what aspects to be sure to include. If she enjoyed decorating, then make decorating the house together a special activity with music from her childhood. Bake some cookies so that the enticing smell adds to the experience.
If you are not holding the usual gatherings, you may need to talk with family ahead of time to find ways to celebrate remotely. Adjust your expectations and be realistic with your family about what you can participate in this year. You can still create meaningful and memorable celebrations over Zoom or other video conferencing apps.
You do not need to talk about the pandemic with your mother directly if it will cause her stress. You can simply say there is a flu going around and that is why you are staying separate this year. Do not have the news on when she is around. The goal is to reduce stress in the environment so you can both enjoy the season.
If you do not already have a device to video chat on, consider asking the family to make this a group holiday gift for you and your mother. This will open the ways you can connect virtually. Then you can plan for virtual “events” with family and friends. Consider cooking a shared recipe while video chatting or organizing time for children in the family to present their talents over Zoom in a virtual family talent show.
Designate someone in the family to coordinate and organize the Zoom schedule. You can even have a family gingerbread house decorating competition over Zoom and let your mother be the judge. If family and friends are close by, consider scheduling a day where you and your mother sit outside on lawn chairs and they all drive up with cards and signs in a festive holiday parade.
Sometimes holidays bring more stress because we place high expectations on ourselves and all that we think we need to do to make them special for everyone. Allow yourself to focus on doing less this year but making those fewer things more meaningful. It may be watching home videos or sharing a look through an old photo album. Do not forget to make sure it is special and rewarding for you as well as your mother. Make yourself a priority too and find time to enjoy the parts of the holiday that you find meaningful.
The Alzheimer’s Association has made a helpful handout called “Navigating the Holidays and Alzheimer’s in the COVID-19 Era. You can download it here: https://www.alz.org/media/cacentral/Navigating-the-Holidays.pdf and review these helpful tips.
Know that you are not alone. Reach out and join a caregiver support group if you want to learn and share with other family caregivers who may be going through some similar challenges during the holidays. Planning with such care for your mother is an incredibly loving act, and she is fortunate to have you.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com.