DAYTON — Thanksgiving is a holiday that embraces giving thanks for one’s family, but this year because of COVID-19, there may not be any embraces or extended family present.
On Oct. 15, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine suggested that families limit the size of their Thanksgiving gatherings. It was the same week that Ohio set a new single-day record of infections. As spikes in COVID-19 cases in Ohio continue to jeopardize extended family gatherings, Alzheimer’s caregivers are caught between trying to keep their loved ones safe and allowing them to participate in Thanksgiving family traditions.
“I’m definitely not going anywhere for Thanksgiving, that’s not going to happen,” Kim Willis, who cares for her mother with Alzheimer’s in her home, said. She said the risks for catching the coronavirus are too high. “She goes to the hospital for any reason we’re in trouble because she can’t communicate. In the past when she had been in the hospital I stayed in the room with her overnight. You can’t do that because of COVID.”
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. Alzheimer’s Association officials agree with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that anyone hosting a Thanksgiving celebration should consider current COVID-19 levels and determine whether to postpone, cancel, limit the number of attendees or do a virtual celebration.
Rebecca Hall, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association, said that 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.
“Now we are getting into the holiday season and people really want to see their grandparents and their parents, but you have to consider the risk of infecting people,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, everyone does not take the same level of precaution to limit their exposure to the virus. You have to celebrate safe and you have to celebrate smart. Maybe it’s a smaller gathering this year.”
Willis said this year, her Thanksgiving celebration will be with just her and her family – husband Norman and sons Matthew, 18 and Christian, 24. But even managing the COVID risk in the house is difficult at times because she has to regularly remind her sons to wear their masks properly over their noses when they go to work and interact with the public.
“It’s very, very stressful,” Willis said. “There’s other people in the house. I don’t go out but when you have young people they don’t see it the same.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is offering tips for families facing holiday gathering decisions.
• Be Safe: Encourage attendees to follow safety protocols during the celebration, including hand washing, and 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. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch.
• Keep it simple: Instead of potluck-style gatherings, encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and members of that household only.
• Connect with your family member virtually: Consider taking the call to the next level by conducting a holiday activity such as baking cookies.
• Prepare a favorite holiday meal or dessert: 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.
The Alzheimer’s Association toll-free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 is available to help families navigate disease-related challenges, including those resulting from the current pandemic.