Juggling Caregiving Amidst Coronavirus this Holiday Season – Ask The Expert
Discover the best ways to tackle the holidays while staying safe with your loved ones!
Join AARP’s family and caregiving expert Amy Goyer for our Juggling Caregiving and Covid-19 Expert Series. To participate, simply ask a question or share your thoughts here with a reply post between now and 12/11/2020. Your questions - along with tips, recommendations, and resources - will be answered by @agoyer from 11/30/2020 – 12/11/2020.
The series is a great chance for all dealing with the tall task of navigating the unique holiday landscape in 2020 with their loved ones. While the Coronavirus has certainly set up more obstacles, Amy is here to present you with advice and alternatives to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe, and mentally strong, while enjoying your celebrations.
@dsnFamily Sounds like you have a great attitude! I have a feeling many of us will be trying new things this year and they may turn into ongoing traditions! Here are some ideas for you (since I'm not sure of your family situation, where everyone lives etc. some may not work for you but I hope some will!):
Build a holiday bonfire for a safer outdoor visit
Make homemade gifts or greeting cards - since it's harder to get to stores
Meet for a walk outside - some families have been meeting up to walk around and look at holiday light displays! If you have a loved one who has difficulty getting around and a wheelchair won't work - then drive around the city and look for good light displays! You can usually find an online listing of light displays in your city.
Cook the same recipes from a distance and compare - and you could do so while chatting on video! You might bake something, try a new holiday side dish, make candy, or try a festive cocktail recipe!
Read to kids or grandkids via video calls - Read holiday-themed books like "The Night Before Christmas"!
Call each other while you have your first holiday morning cup of coffee - The morning of a holiday is often a special family time. If you'll be apart, you can still gather for that morning coffee - just do it on video or phone!
Watch holiday movies or create holiday crafts together from a distance! Just connect via video or phone call while you watch. And you could do a progressive craft - one person does the first step and sends it on to the next person, who does the next task and sends it on - when it's all done it could be a special gift for a loved one with everyone's hand in it!
Hope these ideas will spur some creative thinking for you! Just remember that most traditions are shared experiences, so figure out ways to do things "together" even if not in person! Please share any new traditions you've thought of!
@AARPMichaelP I know how you feel! It's different and it's ok to acknowledge that and even feel sad about it. But the good news is there are ways to still experience meaning and joy even from a distance! I'll be apart from my family for the first time in my life this year. Thankfully, I'll be with my boyfriend but apart from my two sisters and all nieces and nephews. My sister has some health issues so it's especially hard to be away from her at this time. So we are doing a lot to stay connected. Here are some ideas for you:
Focus on what is most meaningful and creates joy and excitement and adapt it to virtual. Discuss what is most important to you and your loved ones. For example, my sisters and I love watching Christmas movies, so we have a date every Mon, Wed and Fri night (and sometimes weekend nights too!) to watch a movie virtually together. Other things you can do together virtually include cookie baking, decorating the tree, lighting the menorah, unwrapping presents, creating holiday crafts, watching holiday concerts etc. You can put each other on speaker and talk while you do things or on video chat and see each other too. When we watch movies together we either DVR the movie or watch on a streaming service (like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu etc.) or a DVD. We video call each other (Facetime, Zoom, Skype or another video chat platform) and count down "1-2-3-PLAY" and hit play at the same time so we are more or less in sync. Then we mute our phones and only unmute if one of us needs a break or to comment, laugh or cry! It feels like we are together - and we are - virtually!
Schedule things to look forward to - Anticipation is a big part of the holiday season. Scheduling more frequent contact via phone calls and virtual activities can help. We often look forward to a week or so of activities with loved ones, so now try stretching that out across the month so every day or every week there are high points. You'll all have less time to feel down about it because something is always happening!
Send things - more than ever it's exciting to get a greeting card or a package. I know a caregiver who is sending her brother a card every single day during the holiday season. Try sending a holiday decoration, photograph or book and then talk about them on the phone or video chat. You might even break up their holiday presents into multiple phases where they get one thing at a time - for example if you're getting your loved one a robe, nightgown and slippers for a holiday gift, send each one separately in the weeks leading up to the holiday.
Surprise! Nothing brings joy or excitement like a surprise! Schedule a surprise video call with a larger group of family or friends but tell your loved one it's just you or a few people! Surprise them with a care package, fresh fruit, goodies...the element of surprise is the most important thing. It makes people feel special.
Hope these ideas are helpful! I'd love to hear your ideas!
My mother says we should just cancel Christmas since we can’t have a “normal” Christmas this year. I think it will make her more depressed to do so. How can I convince her to “do” Christmas even thought it will be different?
@SandyY621323 this is a tough one! The key to this is helping her realize the "different" doesn't have to "bad". A few suggestions:
Tell her YOU need Christmas! Ask her to do it for you. Tell her YOU will feel very low if she/your family don't do anything at all for Christmas. Sometimes a parent will do things for their child 🙂 Tell her how and why it would be too hard for you if she doesn't participate in the holiday. And you can also talk about how important it is to the children in the family (if there are any), explain ways she can help make it special for them, whether shopping for presents online, baking, making presents or Christmas crafts...
Sneak it in a little at a time - put a few decorations out. Tell her she doesn't have to participate but you're doing it for yourself. She may get caught up in and start helping or offering "suggestions".
Schedule activities with other family members and invite her. Outdoor distanced small gatherings, video calls etc.
Watch Christmas movies together.
Put some holiday linens on the table...it may get her in the spirit!
Ask if there is any specific holiday ritual she wants to skip - maybe it's ok not to do the whole thing this year but focus on adapting a few, most meaningful holiday activities.
Send her holiday cards a couple times a week. She can display them for holiday decorations.
I hope these ideas are helpful! You don't have to cancel Christmas, just adapt and embrace the unique aspects of this year. Technology is really helpful if you can find a way to connect her via video to family and friends.
Hi @agoyer, I’m kind of relieved that I won’t have a big group for the holidays this year, but I still want to make it a good holiday for my loved ones. How can I make it meaningful for them but keep them safe?
@AARPLynne I can understand why you're relieved - caregiving takes a lot out of us and it's nice to have a break now and then! I hope you'll get a bit more rest this year, and next year you can do it all up again full force if you want to. You're on the right track with your focus on making it meaningful! The first step is to understand what, exactly, does make the holidays meaningful for your loved ones. If you can, talk with them about it. Are there certain activities that make it feel like a holiday for them? Baking, decorations, meals, family gatherings, music, services etc. Try to drill down to what about those key things give them the holiday feeling. Then figure out ways to adapt the activities around those things.
For example, if decorations are key, which decorations are the most important to them? I always feel like it's not Christmas without a tree - I can forego so many other decorations but without some type of a tree it's just not Christmas for me. You can figure out a way to help them get a tree - whether it's in their own home and you help, or you send them a small decorated tree ready to put out on a table at home or in a facility where they live, or you decorate a tree and put it outside their window to enjoy!
If family gatherings are the one thing that makes the holiday right for them, then find ways to do virtual gatherings and have shared experiences. I am watching Christmas movies 3 times a week with my sisters - I am in Alexandria, VA, my sister Linda is in Phoenix and my sister Susie is in Los Angeles - but we do a video call with all 3 of us and we choose a movie that we can all watch on a streaming device (or we DVR it) and hit "play" at the same time. It's not the same as being together in person, but I have to tell you it's the next best thing! We mute our phones, and unmute to make comments and laugh and cry etc. You can do this for any number of holiday activities and get that "togetherness" feeling even if you are far apart. If your loved ones struggle with technology, get a simple device (tablet or phone), set it all up and send it to them.
One more example - if religious services are key, and it's not possible to go in person this year, find a service to participate in online or on television. There are so many available now. And if the going out part is key - dressing up and going to services - maybe plan a drive around town to look at the lights...at least it gets you out of the house!
I'd love to hear about what is most meaningful to you and your loved ones and how you might adapt those activities!
Amy is AARP's national family and caregiving expert who has more than 35 years of professional experience serving and advocating for older adults, children and families, and people with disabilities. She has been a family caregiver her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sisters and other relatives and friends.
She writes extensively for AARP about her experiences caring for her mother, Patricia, who died in 2013, and her father, Robert, who lived with Alzheimer's disease for 12 years before his death in 2018.
Amy has written three books and appears regularly as a caregiving authority on network news shows, including more than a dozen times on NBC’s Today. She has been a guest on Dr. Phil and The Doctors and been interviewed by CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and People, among other media outlets.
Hi @agoyer! I appreciate this discussion and your insights. I have a question for you: My loved one lives in a nursing home. How can I create a holiday for him when I am not allowed to visit except through a window?
@AARPRachelA That is such a good question because millions of families are facing this situation this holiday season. Here are a few suggestions for you:
Get ideas from the facility - Many facilities are doing their best to ensure families have a way to communicate with loved ones, especially around the holidays. Talk with the nursing home administrator, social worker and activities director. Find out if they have learned of creative things other families are doing with their loved ones - you might get some good ideas from them.
Make those window visits really festive occasions. When you do have a window visit make it a big deal! Wear festive headgear (antlers, snowflakes, bows - you get the picture!), wrap garland around yourself like you are a Christmas tree! Ask if you can play music outside their window. Bring someone with you and dance for them or sing for them. Make it a party! You can bring a mocktail and ask the facility to give your loved one a mocktail too (cranberry juice and sprite works!) and toast through the window.
The element of surprise. Surprises are always special - perhaps you can arrange for a visit with the facility but don't tell your loved one - they'll be so excited when you show up!
Decorate outside. Ask the facility if you could put some decorations outside the window to stay throughout the holiday season. A Christmas tree, giant menorah, lights, fake snow on the window, window suncatchers, decorate a bird feeder pole - something special!
Supplement the visits with other connections. Try to set up video chats - whether with a device the facility provides, your loved one already has or you set up a device and hand it off (safely) to a staff member to set up. More frequent contact is helpful especially right now during the holidays - it feels special. If the staff at the facility are cooperative, they could help set up a holiday movie for your loved one to watch and you could watch the same movie at your home but be on a video call (mute while watching) and discuss it afterwards. You can send things too - greeting cards (a few times a week!), decorations, goodies, an advent calendar with a gift for every day until the holiday - anything to make them feel like it's the holiday season, you care and you are doing your best to stay in touch under the circumstances. Old fashioned phone calls are good too!
I hope you and your loved on connect this holiday season - even if it is through a window. Just focus on making connections any way possible and expressing your love and caring.
Hello I am the caregiver of my 94 yr old mom. She wants to stay in her home and was doing fairly well. Most recently she has noted her arms and legs are getting weaker. We were on a schedule where I come every other day. She had a fall earlier in the year and recouperated w physical therapy but lately physical strength weakening
I have checked in home care but it was for 4 hours intervals. I would appreciate any suggestions as it seems she needs assistance getting up and going to bathroom etc. Thanks and regards Janelle
@NellAARP Hi Janelle! Sounds like you're doing a great job helping your mom. And as her abilities are changing you are trying to adjust her care/support. Well done!
This is a tough stage where she doesn't seem to need someone there all the time, but needs help when she is getting up to go to the bathroom or up and about in other ways. You definitely are wise to try to prevent falls, rather than deal with them after they happen.
Most agencies do want 4 hour intervals. If you want to use an agency, you could have the person 4 hrs in morning and 4 hours in evening. But I know how that expense adds up. If you are looking for a local agency you can use our Community Resource Finder to locate them.
You could hire a caregiver directly, private pay, and ask them to come for 2 hrs in the morning as she is getting up and going, 2 hrs in evening as she gets ready for bed etc. Most private caregivers want a min. of 2 hrs although if they live nearby they may be willing to do less. To hire a caregiver directly you can use one of the online matching services like Care.com, Carelinx or contact the local area agency on aging and ask if they have a list of local caregivers or other recommendations. Many people do this word of mouth - asking friends and family if they know of anyone who would be good at this and is a known and trusted person. If you hire direct be sure to do background checks and check references.
I also recommend being there with any new caregiver for the first couple days at least to see how they are interacting with your mom and how she is responding to them. Also to train them on her preferences etc.
You could try splitting up periodic check-ins and bathroom assistance between yourself and family, friends, neighbors. Just be sure everyone is trained, aware and really knows how to best help her safely.
As I mentioned, the area agency on aging is a great resources. You can find yours by going to the Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.acl.gov and put in your zip code. You'll get a listing of key organizations in your state, including the area agency on aging. You can ask them if there are any respite programs she might qualify for - free or reduced cost - who might be able to help with periodic check-ins, toileting assistance. Also ask about caregiver support - you need it too!
If it weren't for COVID I'd suggest trying adult day services as she'd be in a center where she could get help going to the bathroom during the day but right now it's not the best option in terms of health/safety.
Also be sure to look for fall hazards in the house and remove throw rugs etc. AARP has a great free HomeFit Guide you can download that helps you check every room!