Staying Connected with Loved Ones During the Holidays

by Sara Morris, Advocate for the Aging, Department of Human Resources

2020 has certainly been a year for the history books! We have all felt the effects of the pandemic along with many other challenges faced this year. One segment of the population who has certainly felt the effects is our older adults. The holidays can bring about some additional challenges for them.

1 in 5 older adults has reported feeling socially isolated or lonely throughout their older adulthood. One study has reported that the number has doubled since the start of the COVID-19. The holidays can exasperate feelings of loneliness and isolation as many older adults cannot celebrate with their families or friends due to physical limitations or their financial situation. The holidays are also a time to reminisce on family traditions, loved ones who are no longer with us, and activities once enjoyed. 

What do I do if my loved one is feeling lonely?

If I had to name a theme for 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic it would be technology! While technology has been a great tool for many of us during this time, it can be a source of frustration and confusion for some of our older adults. The next time you reach out to your loved ones, ask them how they would prefer to chat. Do they prefer video calls, telephone calls, or just a quick text message?

If your loved one is more chatty than usual or makes comments like “I just enjoy talking with people,” they may be a great candidate for a telephone reassurance program. Telephone reassurance programs are brief, friendly phone calls made by volunteers. I like to think of it as a “Phone Pal” program. Henrico County’s EngAGE initiative has EngAGEing Conversations: Telephone Reassurance Program which has connected older adults with volunteers either on a one-on-one basis or by contacting individuals up to 3 days a week by a rotating group of volunteers. However, if your loved one does not live in the county searching “Telephone Reassurance Programs” can be a great place to start!

Noticing Things Around the Dinner Table

Holidays are a notorious time for families to notice changes in their loved ones. If we are not able to see our loved ones frequently, family gatherings are a great time to notice changes in memory, mobility, and personal hygiene. Is your loved one having trouble getting around the house? Are they having a hard time remembering their famous holiday recipe? These are all things to note when visiting our loved ones.

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

If your loved one is experiencing issues with memory, it may be subtle. When my Grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease became very apparent, my entire family started thinking back and realizing how well my grandmother had been able to compensate for her illness over the years. Here are ten signs to look out for this season:

  1. Memory loss: especially newly learned information. Information from the past can be recited with precision at this point, but new information will be hard to retain. This is the most common early signs of dementia.
  2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks: Individuals with dementia may have difficulty planning and completing everyday tasks, especially those with multiple steps.
  3. Problems with Language: Individuals with dementia may have a hard time naming specific items and will often substitute names like “toothbrush” with “the thing that cleans my teeth.”
  4. Disorientation of Time and Place: Individuals with dementia have a hard time navigating time and place and can easily get turned around in their own neighborhood.
  5. Poor or Decreased Judgement: Individuals with dementia may make decisions that make your scratch your head like wearing a heavy jacket in the middle of summer or give away large sums of money.
  6. Trouble Understanding Spatial Relationships: Individuals with dementia may have difficulty balancing or trouble reading. Dementia can affect your vision and judging distance.
  7. Withdrawal from Work or Social Activities: Individuals with dementia may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. They may have begun to withdraw from their favorite hobbies, social activities, etc.
  8. Changes in Mood and Personality: Individuals with dementia may experience mood or personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. Becoming easily upset with things outside of their comfort zone may be a sign.
  9. Misplacing things and Losing Ability to Retrace Steps: Individuals with dementia may put things in unusual places or lose things and be unable to retrace their steps. They may accuse others of stealing as the disease progresses.
  10. Challenges in Planning or Solving Problems: Some individuals with dementia may have trouble following through with independent living tasks such as keeping track of monthly expenses or following a familiar recipe.

Where Can I Find Resources to Help My Loved One?

Discovering changes in your loved one can be unsettling, but there are organizations to help!

If your loved one is experiencing Memory-Related Issues, contact the Alzheimer’s Association. They have chapters across the nation. Call their 24/7 hotline at 800-272-3900.

If you are not sure what resources exist in your loved one’s area, then contact their local Area Agency on Aging. Each region is served by an Area Agency on Aging. In the Richmond area, that organization is Senior Connections who can be reached at 804-343-3000. If your loved one is outside of the Richmond area, you can search for their Agency on Aging using the Eldercare Locator tool:

Lastly, as a Henrico County Employee, if you have any questions, concerns, or need information on how to best proceed for your loved one, contact Sara Morris, Advocate for the Aging at 804-501-5065 or [email protected]. The Advocate for the Aging assist older residents and their families and assists employees in navigating senior services.