This time of the year many families have began to make holiday travel plans, but coronavirus (COVID-19) is raising questions about the risk that poses for their elderly loved ones. Now is the time to gather information about travel and begin conversations with older family members about what to expect this season.
COVID-19 might restrict holiday plans, but families can still find many ways to maintain beloved connections and traditions while keeping everyone as safe as possible.
State and local policies do change regarding COVID-19. So, at the end of the day, the choice to travel or expand a social circle will depend on personal calculations. Each individual must weigh their own risks and assess their own comfort levels.
Be sure to check the regulations of travel destinations in advance as regulations fluctuate based on coronavirus case counts. Also read up on the CDC’s questions to ask before flying, driving, or taking public transportation.
For families who can’t avoid being near an elderly loved one, health authorities recommend proper use of protective measures including masks, social distancing, handwashing, and limiting time together to 15 minutes or less.
As hard as it might be, avoid the temptation to hug beloved relatives and engage in long face-to-face conversations. These close interactions increase the coronavirus risk.
Find creative ways to share holiday joy with senior loved ones.
Any holiday that occurs during the coronavirus pandemic will be difficult to navigate on many fronts. It can prove even more challenging for seniors. Some of our senior loved ones struggle with cognitive issues that make it difficult to understand why family isn’t coming to visit. Missing out on cherished holiday gatherings is likely to feel traumatic. Read more about How to Keep Seniors Cope with Lonliness.
Every family is working hard to provide support to their loved ones near and far, and it’s not easy. Caregiver burnout and pandemic fatigue are real and it’s important to acknowledge this. Creating and strengthening connections with others is more important than ever and doing this doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task.
There are many ways to strengthen ties with loved ones during these challenging times. Families can schedule safe communications often throughout the holiday season, so seniors won’t feel left out. Zoom, FaceTime, and other apps allow relatives of all ages to interact online. If you haven’t yet, consider giving these tools a try.
You can create a sense of connection by listening to the same Pandora or other streaming music channel during the meal, having the same menu, having a family call or Zoom before or after the meal, or even having an outdoor, socially distanced visit.
Maintaining connection with others is important for mental health. Amanda Leggett, Ph.D., of the U-M department of psychiatry suggests thinking about what are the traditions that are important to your family and friends that you can hold onto in a virtual way. Some suggestions include:
- Having an ugly sweater party over Zoom or some other friendly competition.
- Taking time to write a letter to a friend or have a phone call with someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
- Helping a homeless shelter prepare a Thanksgiving meal
- Make care packages for essential workers who are working over the holidays.
Taking care during COVID-19
Being sick over a holiday is never fun—but it’s especially important to take precautions if you or a loved one has COVID-19. If someone in your circle is ill, it is important to protect your family while caring for that individual. If you are sharing a living space, it is important to quarantine for the full 14 days. This can certainly interfere with holiday plans. It may be helpful to take the perspective that you are giving the gift to your family of protecting their health.
If the person who typically prepares the meals falls ill this year, they should pass those duties to someone else. You can engage them by getting their recipe for the dish they would usually prepare and making it the way they would make it and dropping off a holiday plate.
Above all, remember that all it takes to cause an outbreak is one asymptomatic person at a family gathering. That child or adult who shows no signs of COVID-19 could infect an elderly parent, grandparent, and other loved ones. Experts now believe the pandemic is largely fueled by people who feel fine and don’t realize they’re spreading the virus to others.