Unexpected Blessing: Dementia caregiving during the COVID holiday season

Never give up. Never stop fighting.

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Older couple Thanksgiving toast

They’ve been telling you for years that holidays with dementia need to be simpler, less hectic, and quieter, but I see you, my care partner friend, trying to make the family’s experience perfect, just like it used to be. 


You think just because your Beloved has dementia doesn’t mean that the rest of the family can’t have a Hallmark holiday, right?  In fact, you are feeling compelled to do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone has a great time, a better time than ever before.  Lots of presents, candles and good food every night, plus your cousin’s “Ya’ll Come!” open house on New Year’s Day.  You did it all last year, didn’t you?  Did you make it through without collapsing?  How was Beloved’s meltdown?  Was any bit of it fun for you?  My oh my, your martyr’s halo must be very shiny.  Let me ask you this:  Would you to try a different path if you could? 


This is your year. 


This year it can be different because this year it has to be different. Perhaps that is one of the blessings of COVID we have to downsize everything expectations, rituals and gatherings.  Yes, it’s a matter of life and death. It is also, however, an opportunity to regain control over an out-of-control season.  It’s an opportunity to pare down our holiday To Do list without having to explain, an opportunity to change things, to downshift.


This year, if your cousin is still throwing the “Ya’ll Come!” open house for fifty people, then that’s something to jettison for sure.  Blame it on the virus.  Remember how last year you spent three hours getting Beloved dressed and ready, drove 45 minutes to the party and ten minutes into it he demanded to go home?  Wasn’t that fun?  What if this year your cousin were instead to visit you for a quick cup of hot cider outside on the patio or a short walk together?  Not a big deal for him but a nice new memory for you and Beloved.


This year, don’t cancel the holidays altogether, but take the opportunity to make them smaller, quieter and more in line with your needs.  Make them real and honest.  Let your family know what is feasible and ask them to help you.  Maybe you and your immediate family can celebrate one night of Chanukah, Zoom conference sing-alongs and all, but just light the candles at home on the others.  If Christmas is your tradition and you know Beloved not going to make it to Midnight Mass, virtual or otherwise, how about Christmas Eve at home with the music you love, a smaller tree and a FaceTime wassail with your far flung children?


This year you have an opportunity to remake the holidays to fit who you and your Beloved are, right now.  Consider that a gift.



DEMENTIA TIPS | The Alzheimer’s Association has a good essay on making holidays work for you.  Here’s one about Chanukah.


MEAL PREP | The internet abounds with Thanksgiving menus for small gatherings.  One of my favorites is Melissa Clark’s Thanksgiving Dinner for Two in the New York Times.


NEW TRADITIONS | Maybe one of your grandchildren could make a playlist using the free guide from Music and Memory.

Here’s a video from AFTD and Massachusetts General physicians about navigating COVID and the holidays together:

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