Tag Archive for: covid-19 dementia care

Holidays bring families together to share and observe cherished traditions. But for a relative with memory loss, the holidays can be challenging—especially as we move into our second pandemic holiday season.

These thirteen suggestions can help you plan holiday celebrations that include your loved one with memory loss:

  1.  Recognize that holidays are not the same as they have been in the past. Gatherings may be smaller. Common feelings of loss, sadness, and anger at the disease of dementia (not to mention covid) may be heightened. Talk with other family members who may be experiencing some of these same feelings.
  2. Give yourself permission to do only what you can manage. Ask family and friends for their ideas on how to make it a safe, enjoyable and manageable holiday.
  3. Try altering traditions, not eliminating them. Help your relative enjoy the spirit of the holidays. Holiday baking, holiday cards, sing-alongs, gift wrapping, being with grandchildren, etc. can be adapted to your relative’s abilities, schedule, and immune system. A short, simple activity is often preferable.
  4. Consider celebrating with your relative before or after the holiday. Celebrating a few days before or after may be more manageable and less stressful for everyone. A holiday is still a holiday wherever and whenever you celebrate it.
  5. Plan smaller gatherings. In smaller groups, the person with memory loss may find it easier to process what is being said and be part of the conversation.
  6. Focus on connection and communication. Equip your family to move and talk slowly with your relative. People with memory loss need more time to process who you are and what you are saying and doing.
  7. Maintain your relative’s routine as much as you can to avoid increased confusion. Try to schedule activities around your relative’s best time of day or at meal times.
  8. Be alert to signs of fatigue and increased confusion. Some people in the early stages of memory loss may retreat to a quiet place such as their bedroom when they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. If your relative is in the later stages, watch for signs that she may need a break: changes in facial expressions, tone of voice, or behavior.
  9. Help prepare visitors. People who have not seen your relative in a while will appreciate knowing what to expect and do while being with your relative. Say something like, “I thought it might be helpful for you to know how mom is doing before you see her. Mom is having more problems remembering and recognizing people. Although she may not recognize you, I know she will appreciate your company, and so will I. Please don’t think it is strange when I introduce you. Sometimes this helps her be more relaxed.” Remind them that compassion is key to understanding your relative’s changing brain and behaviors.
  10. Think through where your relative is most comfortable. Taking the holiday celebration to your relative may be better than taking your relative to the holiday celebration. We know that as dementia progresses, routine and familiar environments become increasingly important.
  11. Keep it simple. It’s not how much you do but the enjoyment you and your relative receive from doing things and being together.
  12. Keep your relative covid-safe.  Older adults are more vulnerable and people with advanced dementia often have impaired immune systems as well.  Think carefully about how to keep your relative safe, whether it is with a very small gathering, wearing masks, meeting outdoors, making sure everyone is vaccinated or whatever measures you can bring to the holidays to ensure safety.
  13. Ask family and friends to get tested before the gathering, even if they are vaccinated. Covid tests are available at some clinics as well as pharmacies such as Walgreens, Target, Rite Aid and CVS.

We wish you and your relative with memory loss a warm, safe, holiday season full of meaning and connection.

Beth Spencer and Laurie White

Dementia Care Books

Like many of you we have been ordered to “shelter in place” (Beth in Michigan, Laurie in California) to help curb or eradicate the COVID-19 virus. Although it is an inconvenience, we cannot help but think of all the caregivers for relatives with dementia.

Adult Day Centers are closed. Some family members are working from home, making it difficult to give full attention to their relative. Family members and friends can only visit with relatives in assisted living or skilled nursing communities through the window or on the phone or, in some cases, not at all. Caregivers caring for a partner or a parent at home may find it especially stressful as there may be no one who can stop by and provide a break.

Cancelled flights have separated adult children living a distance from a parent with dementia. From a daughter who lives far away from parents who are home alone, desperate about what to do after her flight was cancelled:

“I have not seen my parents in 6 months and was planning to visit in late March until the COVID-19 virus. My mom’s doctor said contracting an illness like pneumonia could have devastating effects on her FTD (Frontal Temporal Dementia) prognosis; I presume COVID-19 could be a similarly bad situation. My dad is with her, but he has heart problems and an underlying respiratory condition. What would happen if one of them became ill with COVID-19? I am frantic not knowing what to do.”

Whether family members live with, close by or far from their relative with memory loss, it can be a stressful time. Here are some suggestions that may help you:

Staying healthy

  1. Know signs and symptoms of the virus. If you suspect your relative may have COVID-19, contact their doctor immediately. The number of testing sites offering testing is increasing daily. Learn more at the Center for Disease Control website or your county health agency.
  2. Know other illnesses that may cause increased confusion or agitation in people with dementia: Infections, dehydration, fever, and pain. If in doubt, call your doctor.
  3. Minimize your relative’s contact with other people. Older adults are more vulnerable to this virus than younger populations.
  4. Wash hands thoroughly throughout the day. Having favorite music in the background or washing hands together may help your relative be more willing to wash her hands. If this is not possible, try using hand sanitizer often. Check the Environmental Protection Agency website for recommended products to sanitize surfaces.


  1. Ask your relative’s doctor about filling prescriptions for more days. This may reduce the number of trips to the pharmacy. Pharmacies are considered an essential business and are open.
  2. Some essential businesses are abbreviating their hours. Call ahead if you are planning to go to the grocery store, the bank, etc.
  3. Some home care agencies are open for business. If you are feeling more stressed, and a home care agency is already providing care to your relative, consider asking for more hours. If you are not using home care services, consider calling and asking if they are taking new clients. There may be a shortage of home care workers, but it is definitely worth asking.

Caring throughout the day

  1. The book Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care, by our dear colleagues David Troxel and Virginia Bell, offers information and strategies to help caregivers get through the long days of caregiving. Caregivers have and will surely find this timeless book helpful.
  2. A person may become more confused because their routine has been disrupted. Try to stick to the same daily routine each day. If confusion leads to behavioral problems, our book Coping with Behavior Change in Dementia may be a helpful resource.
  3. Eliminate coverage about the virus on your TV or computer. People with dementia may not understand it and become frightened or agitated hearing about the seriousness of the virus.
  4. The stress you might be feeling is contagious and your relative may feel it too. Although she may not fully understand COVID-19, she may feel upset which can lead to a change in behavior such as agitation or sleeplessness.
  5. Take walks, keeping a safe distance. Being outside and getting some exercise can reduce stress for both of you.
  6. Share activities. Look at old photos together. Try a jigsaw puzzle. Involve your relative in a household activity such as dusting, vacuuming, etc. Try doing a favorite hobby together, or baking cookies, cleaning the toolbox, sorting clothes or coins.
  7. These are stressful times for all of us and it is important to take care of yourself. Yoga, meditation, a short walk, eating and sleeping well are very important right now. Reach out to a friend on the phone. Scheduling FaceTime sessions with friends and other family members can help with feelings of social isolation.

Caring for yourself

  1. Many Alzheimer’s Association chapters are offering virtual caregiver support groups. Visit Alz.org to see if the chapter near you is offering a group.
  2. Ask for help. Take help that is offered to you. Neighbors, friends, high school students, and Eagle Scouts are reaching out to do errands such as pick up groceries or medications, help with outdoorhandling transitions in dementia care chores, or take a walk with your relative (If this is offered, ask the volunteer about any possible exposure to others within the past 30 days.)
  3. Some therapists are offering phone or video therapy sessions.  There are also hotlines if you are feeling desperate, including the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 helpline, 800.272.3900.

We wish you all the best as our country goes through this difficult time.  Hoping for all caregivers and their relatives to stay well.


Laurie White & Beth Spencer, Co-authors, Coping with Behavior Change in Dementia and Moving a Relative and Other Transitions in Dementia Care.