Alzheimer’s Adviser Urges Families to Connect with Loved Ones over Holiday Season

By Lindsay Emery

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers are facing unique challenges.

With the COVID-19 pandemic placing stringent visitation restrictions on health care facilities, Eileen Hendricksen, care consultant and director of early stage services for the Alzheimer’s Association, said caregivers are striving to ensure loved ones receive the support and attention they would normally get during the holidays.

“Some caregivers have their loved ones in facilities and they haven’t been able to see them in months, and that’s stressful for a lot of reasons,” Hendricksen, who serves Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties, said. “They don’t know if they’ll be able to see them for the upcoming holiday, as well.”

Despite the current health crisis, Hendricksen said connecting in whatever way possible with loved ones, whether that be virtually or by phone, is vital. Though, she warns communication shouldn’t derail from the individual’s routine and the amount of people on a call should be limited at a time.

The more their routine is disrupted, the more agitated or tired they become by those interactions, she said.

Hendricksen suggested family members create videos throughout the holiday season, including cooking the individual’s favorite dish to share together virtually. Additionally, she said families could drop off premade meals or gifts, such as arts and crafts, puzzles, coloring, or a comfortable blanket.

She said buying these gifts could offer both comfort to a loved one and some relief to their helper, who might not have the opportunity to take a break.

“For caregivers that are living with their loved one with dementia, that also has its own challenges because they’re unable to get a break a lot of the time where before the pandemic their loved one may have been going to an adult day program or they may have felt more comfortable having help come into the home,” Hendricksen said. “And they may not feel comfortable with that right now, so now they’re just taking care of the person on their own.”

With most often suffering from various stages of dementia, Hendricksen advised that families should determine which type of technology would be suitable to host a virtual gathering. Websites like seniorplanet.org offer free videos and classes for seniors to learn technology.

Hendricksen added that some with dementia will often ask for a relative who has already died around the holiday season. In those situations, she urged families to show compassion and redirect the conversation to something much lighter and enjoyable.

“It’s really hard but try to connect in whatever way you can,” Hendricksen said. “We don’t know when it (the pandemic) will end but it’s not forever.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is offering Caring through the Holidays: Virtual Education Sessions on Dec. 14 from 11:30 am and 12:30 pm to help make the holidays easier and more enjoyable. To sign up, call the number below or learn more on the Association’s website.

For more resources or to learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association in Hudson Valley, visit www.alz.org/hudsonvalley or call the 24/7 hotline for help at 1(800) 272-3900

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