“I’ll miss entertaining my kids and grandkids,” says a caregiver about this year’s holidays. With the surge in coronavirus cases, the CDC recommends limiting holiday gatherings to the immediate family. For caregivers of loved ones with dementia, social distancing joins the list of holiday planning concerns. 

In a recent survey of Alzheimer’s caregivers, 84 percent expect the coronavirus pandemic to have a negative impact on family gatherings. Anticipating underwhelming holidays caps off a year when 77 percent of caregivers, report increased stress since restrictions began in March. 

Making the Most of the New Normal

Despite these issues, there are steps caregivers can take to minimize stress this year. Here are five tips for celebrating a low-stress holiday season with a loved one with dementia.

1. Manage Your Expectations

The holidays are not about perfection, they are about joy, faith and togetherness. There are issues you can’t control about your loved one’s health, abilities and pandemic-related risks. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Prioritize the activities that are the most meaningful to you and cross the rest off your list. Tips to survive the season as a caregiver include time-saving actions like having meals or groceries delivered. Do your holiday shopping online. 

Be mindful. Appreciate the holiday joys you can experience rather than those you miss.

2. Communicate About Limited Celebrations and Why

Schedule a call or videoconference with family members to discuss holiday celebrations in advance. Help everyone understand the precautions you are taking for your loved one’s safety and what you can and cannot do this season. This also a good time to update relatives on any changes in appearance or behavior since they last saw the person with dementia. 

3. Ask for Help

Even if you don’t normally ask for help, the holidays are a good time to do so. When relatives ask for your wish list as a caregiver, have them schedule time with your loved one so you have a day off. Possible requests include simple home repairs, a spa gift certificate, lawn care, a cleaning service or a home health aide’s visit.

Have someone coordinate socially distanced holiday activities, like a zoom party or holiday pod. For a holiday pod, relatives with recent negative coronavirus tests form a bubble to celebrate together while avoiding risky situations. 

4. Practice Self-Care

Caregivers often nurture others at the expense of their own well-being. Be aware of signs of caregiver stress like exhaustion, sleeplessness, lack of concentration and anxiety. These are red flags. To avoid burnout, find ways to refresh and restore. Listen to music, take a hot bath, take a walk, do a few minutes of, exercise, establish a good sleep routine, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Be wary of negative coping mechanisms like overeating or drinking too much alcohol. Use online resources for coping strategies and to connect with other caregivers. 

5. Connect Through Technology 

Help your loved one connect with relatives through a video call. Watch children open gifts or share memories through photographs. Listening to multiple people speak at once is hard for persons living with dementia, so plan accordingly.

This year, the challenges of the pandemic increased the difficulty of caring for loved ones with dementia. After social distancing for most of the year, the thought of missing family gatherings is discouraging. Yet it is possible to connect virtually or in small groups. These five tips will help you communicate, delegate and prioritize. Use them to create new memories with minimal stress. Happy Holidays.