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A COVID Christmas 

Preparing for an aged care Christmas in 2020. If your family is like most, you probably have yearly Christmas traditions that involve spending time with those you love.

But now we’re living amidst a global pandemic, chances are that our Christmas celebrations will look somewhat different this year — especially for those with a loved one in aged care.

Protecting the most vulnerable Australians 

COVID-19 is an extremely infectious virus that affects people in many ways. Some people only have mild symptoms, while others can become extremely ill and experience serious, ongoing side-effects, or even die. The severity of the illness is related to overall health, and age which means our elderly population, are among the most vulnerable.

As a way to contain the virus and keep Australians safe, state and federal governments imposed a large number of restrictions designed to limit the movement of the virus, and therefore infection rates. Some of these restrictions have included how far we can travel, how many people we can interact with socially, and whether or not we can visit loved ones in aged care.

Unfortunately, those who live in aged-care facilities are even more vulnerable to the effects of this virus, because once an outbreak occurs in these settings, it can spread very quickly. This was evident by high numbers of infections and deaths related to aged care over recent months. Because of the high risk associated with aged care facilities, strict regulations and restrictions remain in place to protect residents, despite lower case numbers.

What COVID-19 restrictions are still in place?

Unfortunately, due to the unpredictability of the virus, these restrictions may continue to change. However, there may be restrictions around:

  • Whether you can visit an aged care home (based upon your health, flu vaccination status and risk for COVID-10)
  • How many people can visit an aged care home at one time, or on one day
  • How long you can visit an aged care home
  • Where these visits will take place within the aged care setting
  • Whether residents can leave their facility to attend events.

To see daily updates and recent changes to restrictions in Victoria, visit the Department of Health and Human Services website here.

How to plan a COVID, aged care Christmas

Given various restrictions and the likelihood that these could change with very little notice, it makes sense to plan your Christmas celebrations early. Just make sure your plans allow for a little flexibility in case you need to adjust your plans in order to have an aged care Christmas.

First of all, contact the aged care facility where your loved one lives. Ask them about current restrictions that are in place and ask if there are limitations on the number of people who can visit, when they can visit and where these visits can take place. Some aged care facilities may avoid family visits in areas where other residents are present.

Also ask about planned Christmas celebrations within the aged care facility, to make sure your visit doesn’t clash. Your loved one may be looking forward to celebrating Christmas with their friends as well as their family. It may be that the best time to catch up with your loved one is in the days before or after Christmas.

If it’s not possible to see your loved one in person this Christmas, you can still make it a special time for them by staying in touch through:

  • phone calls
  • video calls
  • social media apps
  • sending cards, letters and gifts
  • sharing photos, kids’ artwork, or short home videos.

What if things don’t go to plan?

Of course, all the best-laid plans can still fall apart if the situation with the virus changes and further restrictions are imposed at late notice. Possible scenarios include the aged care facility limiting or banning all visits, or that travel restrictions come into play, making it impossible for you to get to your loved one.

This can be extremely disappointing, especially for your aged relative who may have been looking forward to their visit with you. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings and explain that you are also disappointed. But do reassure them that as soon as it’s safe to do so, you’ll make plans to see them.

If you can’t see your loved one in person, why not get creative and organise an online catch-up. For example, you could share a meal via video call, or play an online game of Scrabble. Another idea is for individual members of the family to phone your relative at different times during the day, so they don’t feel isolated and unconnected.

How to make the most of Christmas in 2020

There’s no doubt that a COVID-Christmas for your aged relative will be very different to years gone by. This may be a bit unsettling or upsetting for some people or they may feel anxious or depressed.

However, some strategies can help you and your elderly loved one cope this season. These include:

Focus on the facts — During times of uncertainty, it can be very easy for incorrect information to spread quickly or for elderly people (especially if they have dementia) to become confused. Stick to the facts, and avoid talking about what might happen, or what someone else heard. Also, avoid catastrophising the situation. Keep it unemotional and matter-of-fact.

Avoid changing plans at the last minute — Try to avoid changing plans at the last minute to avoid undue stress and disappointment. If you need to change your plans, give your loved one as much notice as possible, so they have time to accept the situation. You can also use this time to come up with alternative ideas on how to make the day special for them.

Focus on what you can control — Most people become stressed and anxious when they focus on all the things outside of their control. Be aware of what is and isn’t in your control, and focus on what you can do. Encourage your loved one to do this as well.

Turn negatives into positives — While it can be challenging to find the silver lining amidst a difficult situation, doing so can help people cope better. For example, if restrictions mean that only a handful of people can visit your loved one at a time, reframe this as an opportunity for Christmas celebrations to last longer than just one day.

Let yourself and your loved one feel sad and disappointed —COVID-Christmas celebrations will be different this year which may leave you feeling sad and disappointed. This is normal, so allow yourself and your loved one to feel that way instead of pretending everything is okay. Letting others know how you’re feeling and talking about it will help you cope better and will reduce tension and potential conflict.

Seek help — If you or your elderly loved one are having difficulty coping and are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, make sure you seek support or professional help.

While a 2020 Christmas may not be what you had originally planned for, it is possible to celebrate and enjoy the time with those who are most special to you.

For more information on how you can help transition your roles at Christmas to help take the pressure off your elder loved ones, visit our Health Hub article here.

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