Because of COVID-19, celebrating the holidays with loved ones who are living in assisted living and memory care will look different in 2020. Social distancing and celebrating over a video conference can’t take the place of an in-person visit. But here are some ideas to make the holiday meaningful and to keep connections strong, when celebrating at a distance is a necessity to keep everyone safe.

Be mindful of routines

Before scheduling your virtual holiday event, be aware and mindful of your loved one’s regular schedule and routine, especially if they have dementia. Make sure the special event doesn’t conflict with a regularly scheduled activity, especially if it’s something your loved one is looking forward to. During the event, be considerate. If your relative seems fatigued, overwhelmed or agitated, it’s OK to end things early.

Prepare a holiday treat

Almost everyone craves something delicious for the holidays. Preparing a non-perishable treat or a special decoration is always a thoughtful way to personalize the holidays for your loved one. Put together a holiday care package ahead of time to offer something special during your time together.

Take a walk down memory lane

A photo book that’s packed with images of people they know and love, from the distant past to the present, can be the perfect gift. For people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, thumbing through photos in an album can awaken memories and offer delight. Once it’s delivered, set up a video chat so you can peruse the images together and trade memories.

Play their favorite music

Music can create a relaxing atmosphere, but at the same time it also triggers the memory. In fact, music memory is present throughout the brain, which is why many memory care programs incorporate music therapy. Playing special holiday music or having a singalong over the video meet can put a smile on the face of your loved one.

Send a kit

A shared experience can make holiday time fun. Send a kit with a simple craft — say, an ornament or a window decoration — and provide one for yourself so you can work together while you chat. As a variation, send a cookie decoration kit. Everyone can show off their creations and enjoy a snack together.

Get dramatic

Collect some family memories, or funny stories from the past, and turn them into a short holiday sketch show you can perform for your loved one. To make it extra participatory, send a script to your loved one and have a table reading over video, and enjoy the laughter. Or write a script based on a favorite holiday movie or show, adding a family twist, assigning character reading parts to all participants.

Game night

A simple game can give structure and focus to your call. Send bingo cards to everyone on the call list. Or, pull together a list of questions for a rousing game of trivia. Whether you focus on general trivia, or topics that are of interest to your family members, the game can bring out the friendly competitiveness of everyone who’s playing along.

The holidays will definitely be different for everyone this year. Put a little love and creativity into your virtual event, and everyone will feel the joy and sense of celebration.

Arthur’s Memory Café has gone virtual with Zoom during the pandemic! Please contact our facilitator at lori@alzheimersspeaks.org if you’d like to register to join.