November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Western Carolina Chapter and Eastern North Carolina Chapter are marking these events by sharing tips and resources for the 479,000 family members and friends across North Carolina who are currently caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s.
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.
Social distancing protocols, travel restrictions and restrictions preventing families from visiting loved ones in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities are making in-person holiday celebrations challenging, if even possible, this year.
“As the holidays near, we are raising awareness about the unique challenges caregivers face,” said Katherine L. Lambert, CEO of the Western Carolina Chapter. “We want to help families navigate these challenges and provide a meaningful and enjoyable occasion for their families.”
Throughout the holiday season, the Alzheimer’s Association in North Carolina is offering a free virtual education program called, Caregiving for the Holidays. Taking place on November 19 and December 10, this program is designed to teach caregivers to care for themselves, their loved ones, and about holiday safety all while giving suggestions that may make the holidays more enjoyable for caregivers and their loved ones. For a complete list of upcoming virtual programs or to register for a class, visit alz.org/northcarolina/helping_you/virtual-offerings or call 800-272-3900.
Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association is offering tips to help families plan appropriately for both in-person or virtual celebrations.
Tips to help navigate Alzheimer’s and other dementias this holiday season:
- 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, 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.
- Don’t overdo it. Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the day from becoming disruptive or confusing. Depending on the person’s stamina, plan time for breaks so the person can rest in a quiet area away from noise and crowds.
- Involve the person living with Alzheimer’s. Depending on abilities and preferences, make sure to keep the person living with Alzheimer’s involved in the celebration. Offer extended family members suggested activities to engage the person safely or best ways to communicate with them. Cross talk or simultaneous conversations can be challenging for people living with Alzheimer’s, so try engaging them one-on-one or in smaller group settings.
- Adapt gift giving. Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person living with Alzheimer’s. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person needs or can easily enjoy, such as comfortable clothing, favorite foods, music, videos, and photo albums of family and friends.
Tips for virtual holiday celebrations:
If in-person visits with your loved one are not possible due to travel restrictions, social distancing precautions, or restrictions that prevent in-person visits at nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, there are still ways families can connect. Consider the following:
- 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.
- Have your holiday meal catered. If gathering at a favorite restaurant for holiday get-togethers is a tradition, consider having your meal catered. Meal catering and delivery have become the new normal for many restaurants during the current pandemic. Appoint a designated meal server to serve the food to avoid multiple people touching serving utensils.
- Go for a holiday stroll. Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. If an extended indoor holiday celebration seems too risky, consider gathering immediate family for a neighborhood walk to soak in the season. Just remember to bundle up!
In 2019, friends and family of those with Alzheimer’s in North Carolina provided an estimated 545 million hours of unpaid care, a contribution valued at $7.1 billion. According to the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, 83 percent of the help provided to older adults in the U.S. comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers. And nearly half of all caregivers (48 percent) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Caregivers of people with dementia report providing an average of 92 hours of care per month.
Help is available
The Alzheimer’s Association toll-free 24/7 Helpline (1.800.272.3900) is available to help families navigate disease-related challenges, including those resulting from the current pandemic. Additional resources accessible from anywhere are available at alz.org/covid19help. The CDC also offers comprehensive tips and strategies for celebrating safely this holiday season.
Additional Facts and Figures: (http://www.alz.org/facts/)
· Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
· Every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
· An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with the disease, including 170,000 North Carolina residents, are living with Alzheimer’s, a number estimated to grow to as many as 14 million by year 2050.
About the Alzheimer’s Association:
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s.
About the Alzheimer’s Association – Western Carolina Chapter:
The Western Carolina Chapter provides patient and family services, information and referral, education, and advocacy in 49 central and western North Carolina counties. We provide a variety of services including a 24/7 Helpline, support groups, educational programs, and MedicAlert®. We offer opportunities to get involved and to make a difference. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease or the Alzheimer’s Association Western Carolina Chapter, visit www.alz.org/northcarolina or call (800) 272-3900. For the latest news and updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.