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By Sarah Peterson, Caregiver Specialist with WMEC

The holidays are a time for visiting family, reminiscing, and looking forward to the new year. Yet for older adults and their caregivers, the holidays can also be a stressful, uncertain time that upends routine. Add COVID-19, and we’re truly in new territory this holiday season. That’s why I’ve put together this guide to help caregivers navigate the challenges, avoid burnout, and enjoy time with their loved ones.

Holidays with Memory Impairments

The holiday season can be difficult for people of all ages, regardless of any prior diagnosis. However, people with memory impairment may need more structure and regularity than other members of their family. Holidays, decorations, and gatherings can all disrupt daily norms and create more problems for this community and their caregivers.

Decorating your entire home may create unfamiliar and unexpected landscapes for people with memory impairments, thus causing discomfort or making it difficult to move around homes. Instead of getting all the lights out this year, consider decorating only one room to encourage holiday cheer without significantly altering the environment or daily routine.

Whether you provide care for an older adult or a younger person with memory impairment, be sure to find out what they want from the holiday season. Understanding their desires and including them in your plans can inspire joy, create positive memories you can share, and ensure everyone gets the most out of this time. These events needn’t be extravagant or take a lot of effort – everything from watching a movie, listening to holiday music, baking cookies, or looking through photo albums may all get loved ones into the holiday spirit.

COVID-19 Changes and Challenges

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed expectations for a “normal” holiday in 2020. This year, the most loving thing you can do for your family is to stay safe, healthy, and physically distant if you don’t live together.

Even though the desire for connection is as strong as ever, there are ways to stay in touch virtually. Phone and video calls help you “feel there” even if you’re across the country. If you need tips for online gathering, check out our 4 Tips for Virtual Visits This Holiday Season.

If you can safely visit and choose to, be sure to wear masks, keep gatherings small, and create new traditions. This is a great opportunity to use your imagination – try cell phone caroling, baking for other households, or taking masked holiday photos. The most enjoyable celebration is sharing one another’s company as best you can.

It is also important to create and enforce routines that can help your loved one with a memory impairment. Making a family event out of wearing masks and washing hands can reinforce good habits and promote togetherness.

Another challenge you might face this year is the need to set expectations with your extended family. As a caregiver, you know your family member the best. You will have to communicate to extended family and prepare them for interactions that may not go as they might think. A family member with memory impairments might not recognize others, repeat stories, or display new and unexpected behaviors. When you prepare extended family for these changes, you can ensure that everyone can focus on enjoying one another’s company, whether online or safely in person.

Care for the Caregiver

Don’t forget to give yourself the gift of rest this holiday season. This time of year can be busy and stressful for caregivers, especially since time seems so scarce. However, burnout can create even more problems, so we’ve collected a few ideas to help you stay well during the next weeks.

Lean on Your Support Network

When providing care, remember you’re not alone. If they’re healthy and able, and can do so safely in light of COVID, you can ask a family member or a friend to come and help provide care for your loved one. This is a fantastic option because it benefits everyone involved! Your family member with a memory impairment receives care you can trust, your helper gets to see and interact with someone that they love, and you get time you can devote to your needs, whether that’s resting or running other errands.

In the end, asking for help is hard, but it’s critical for providing the best care and keeping yourself healthy.

Find New Opportunities to Rest

Taking time to yourself doesn’t always have to be a lengthy, scheduled event. Keep an eye out for times where you can accomplish other goals. If that means using an extra five minutes to clean part of the house or plan future schedules, take it. When you start budgeting small chunks of time regularly, you may be surprised how quickly they add up.

If there’s a regular time of day when your loved one is napping or you can otherwise focus on yourself, make the most of it. Take a nap, too! Read a book, take a shower, make a coffee, or anything else. Exploring what brings you joy can reinvigorate you and give you a boost to tackle the rest of the day with gusto.

Reframe Your Outlook

Often, a to-do list just reminds people of what they weren’t able to accomplish. When supporting loved ones, try to reframe it as a record of accomplishments. By making a smaller list that you can more readily finish, it instills a greater sense of productivity while buoying spirits. It’s also important to acknowledge the little victories that often go unnoticed. If you can say, “We had a good day,” that’s a win. Allow yourself to have it.

In the same vein, let yourself have a bad day. Not everything goes according to plan, and that’s okay. Be sure to get back on task the next day and do the best you can.

Access Unused Resources

Don’t forget to reach out to businesses and organizations that can help. These institutions can get you information, resources, and services that can provide much-needed support and relief. With their help, you can find everything from advice for assisting your loved ones to emotional support through community groups to tailored help from local services.

The Alzheimer’s Hotline is a great resource designed for people who are isolated or otherwise alone. You can reach them at 1-800-272-3900. Their caring staff will listen objectively to or advise consumers and caregivers alike, for whatever their needs.

You can also reach out to us at WestMass ElderCare. In addition to our current, biweekly Caring for the Caregiver support groups, we can help you access resources and services during the holidays and all year long. Options include:

To learn more or receive a free consultation, contact WestMass ElderCare today. You can reach us through email ( or telephone (413-538-9020).