Mary Caldwell, Early Stage Program Manager, Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter
Well, here we are good people- at the holiday season during one of the strangest years on record. 2020 has brought the world low and taught us exactly how crucial human connection is, especially to those living with dementia and the thousands of Georgians who stand with and care for them. As a gerontologist with the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, I manage the Carpe Diem, Early Stage Program. I can tell you it is a wonderful role that allows me to interact daily with some of the nicest Georgians you will ever meet.
When COVID-19 restrictions began in March of this year, our program immediately pivoted to a virtual platform. At first, we were all beginners in the Zoom Tech World! “I can see you, but I can’t hear you” or “No, no, please stay muted” or “Remember, we can hear you”, sometimes even a “Just click the link in the email”. Looking back to late spring, I laugh at the way we clumsily came together virtually so we could maintain our connection. We learned together, we laughed at ourselves, and we experienced gratitude for this new technology that connected us safely at a time when being together in person is not an option.
Currently the Carpe Diem Virtual Program offers about twenty opportunities per month to members ranging from Virtual Gentle Yoga, “Musing Together at The High”, support groups for persons living with dementia as well as their care partners, to a monthly Lunch and Learn. The program would not be possible without a cadre of amazing and talented volunteers who facilitate the events. I often refer to our statewide early stage group as a community, because we certainly are connected in all the ways that matter. Members struggle together, laugh together, learn together, cry together and yes, learn to live with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Mild Cognitive Impairment, or another dementia together.
During the past month or so, heading into the holiday season, we have discussed how we plan to spend the holidays. Many of the members, including myself, have children and grandchildren. Others either never had children or their children live far away. This is a diverse group in every way including age range. It is always interesting to share our individual and family traditions.
I admit, I was surprised when the overwhelming answer to “How will you all be spending the holidays”? was, “We don’t know”! But folks, there you have it. This lovely group representing women and men full of wisdom, experience, accomplishment, and expertise had no clue how to “Holiday” during a pandemic- and really, why should they? Talk about a first!
So, the question remains. How do we celebrate the 2020 holiday season when we cannot safely travel to see family, enjoy holiday meals with our families, or take part in the warm gatherings at home that mark the season? Does this mean we shouldn’t celebrate at all? Is 2020 going to rob us of this joy?
Carpe Diem members have an answer to those questions. NO! Some of my most favorite people in the world are living with dementia, or they are caring for someone living with dementia. I have learned so much from these friends who wake up each day and face uncertainty with grace, strength, humor, and gratitude. This makes me feel uniquely grateful myself to be able to share some advice for how to not just survive, but thrive, live life to the fullest and love during this crazy 2020 holiday season.
Come on and “Carpe Diem” with us through Holiday Season 2020 with these simple tips.
1) Take Care of Yourself: Don’t stop the things that keep you healthy, happy, and going strong. 2020 is a marathon not a sprint and if we don’t rest, eat healthy, and continue to take care of our minds, bodies, and souls, we won’t be here to celebrate the end of COVID-19.
2) Stay Connected: Yes, we know you have Zoom fatigue. We know you want to gather with your people in person. We want that, too. Everyone wants that. But, really, wishing it won’t make it happen and it may just add to risk of depression and certainly will keep you from completely enjoying the ways we can stay connected. Make those Zoom plans to meet for the holidays, but also think about scheduling a coffee chat, or meeting for a virtual lunch. One of our grandfathers living with dementia has zoom reading time with his grandson and they love it! Set that laptop on the kitchen counter and bake cookies together. The essence of Carpe Diem is seizing the moment and focusing on what we can do- Not what we cannot do.
3) Lean into the Joy of Everyday Things: One of our care partners found a new passion on her daily walks with her husband who is living with early stage Alzheimer’s. They both began to notice the beauty in their Sandy Spring’s neighborhood- the flowers, grass, leaves, the other people in the park. This inspired her to begin photographing that beauty and making the most interesting leaf art, which I know will be treasured gifts for her family this holiday. Lean into the good feelings for those will carry you through the rough patches. Be dedicated to recognizing the good. We magnify the things to which we give focus.
4) Let Go of Expectations: Go ahead and bring out all your favorite decorations, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, cook a turkey, make those homemade latkes, sing carols, watch the Macy’s Day Parade. Or don’t. Look, if we are honest, holidays are lovely, but they are also stressful and full of expectations that we pile on ourselves and others. 2020 gives you complete permission to go as far or as little as you like this year. Some Carpe Diem members have their decorations up already while others say they are giving it a rest this year. We have folks eating steak dinners and tacos while others are making traditional cornbread dressing. Have a discussion with you about you and ask yourself, what do I really want to do this holiday- then surprise yourself and do it!
To learn more about the early stage programs provided by the Georgia Chapter, visit Early Stage Programs or call 800-272-3900.