Caregiving and the holidays: from stress to success!
For many caregivers the holiday season gives rise to stress, frustration and anger, instead of peace and good will.
Caregivers may feel resentful towards other family members who they feel have not offered enough assistance. Managing care for someone who has a cognitive impairment may leave caregivers feeling that they will not be able to participate as fully as they would like in family gatherings. Already feeling overwhelmed with caregiving tasks, stressed-out caregivers may view traditional holiday preparations as more of a drain of precious energy than a joy.
Following are some suggestions that may help make the holidays more enjoyable for you and your loved ones. Keep in mind that the holidays can, in fact, provide unique opportunities to seek better communication, connection and support from family and friends.
An opportunity for communication
It’s hard to know how much to communicate about a loved one’s decline in cognitive functioning and personal care needs. Whom do you tell? How much do you tell?
Although it is understandable to have reservations about discussing a loved one’s impairments, honest communication about the realities of the caregiving situation offers others the opportunity to respond with assistance. Sharing the truths of your situation may help reduce some of the feelings of isolation and lack of appreciation common in caregivers.
Holiday greetings and a brief note
Some caregivers have had success in writing a brief note describing the person’s condition and enclosing it in a holiday greeting card. This can be a nonthreatening way to inform distant or uninvolved relatives about the realities of the caregiving situation. If written in a tone that’s not accusatory or guilt-inducing, family members may be more forthcoming with assistance or, at least, have a better understanding of the effort you are putting into providing care.
Let sleeping dogs lie?
It is common for caregivers to be disappointed with family members who they feel are not “pulling their weight” in caregiving responsibilities. If this holds true for you, and your goal is to enjoy the holidays, you must decide how much and when to communicate this disappointment. Consider clearing the air before the holidays or perhaps resolve within yourself to put those feelings on hold, with the intention to discuss the matter after the holiday season passes. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday!
Be clear about your energy level
Let family members know that your caregiving duties are keeping you very busy and that you only have so much energy for holiday preparation and hosting duties.
Accept the need to adapt
Caregivers often have to adapt their traditional role or experience of the holidays. This may mean allowing another family member to host more time-intensive festivities. You may need to modify the amount of time away from home to match the comfort level of your impaired loved one. You may also have to choose which events to attend based on which would be the simplest, least exhausting and most enjoyable for the person for whom you provide care—and for you.
The visit room
Don’t expect the person with cognitive impairment to be able to adapt to all situations; you may need to adapt the environment to their needs. See if you can arrange to have another room in the house designated as a quiet place for the impaired person. Many people with dementia find multiple conversations and background noise disturbing. To avoid this anxiety, the person may benefit from time in a quieter room with less stimulus where family members could take turns visiting with them.
Share your wish list
- Respite: some caregivers ask for time off from caregiving duties as a gift for the holidays. This could mean another family member gives you a break. Sometimes asking for a Saturday off “in the next three months” is more accepted, as family members can then schedule it into their calendars. If this is not possible, perhaps they would consider paying for a home care worker or a stay at a respite facility. Your FCA Family Consultant can help you locate these resources in your area.
- Home repairs: Do light bulbs need changing, or grab bars need installation? That maddening pile of junk in the garage needs to go to the dump? Tasks such as these may be the perfect way for a family member to help out if providing personal care is too uncomfortable for them.
- Care for you! How about a gift certificate for a massage, facial or manicure? How about an opportunity to spend the day fishing or a walk in the outdoors?
- Book your homecare worker early! Speak with your home care worker or home care agency early about your holiday plans!
Schedule one-on-one time
While caregiving, it is easy to get caught up in all the tasks of personal care and homemaking chores. Make a point of setting some time aside this holiday season to enjoy the person you care for in a relaxed, one-on-one context. The best activities are those which take advantage of long-term memory—usually less impaired in people with dementia. Try looking through family photo albums or unpacking holiday decorations, which may stimulate memories.
Reflect on the rewards
Reflecting on the rewards of caregiving can help maintain your self-esteem. It may feel very rewarding to know that you are fulfilling a vow or promise you have made to the person for whom you provide care. Your caregiving may be an expression of living up to your personal ideals or religious beliefs. You may also be experiencing a great deal of growth as you learn new skills and meet challenges in ways you never imagined possible.
A little thank you goes a long way
After the holidays, write a thank you note to family members or friends who spent time with your loved one. Emphasize the positive impact their visit or brief time spent with your loved one had on them. This may reinforce positive feelings from their visit and diminish any discomfort they experienced. They may then be more encouraged to visit again or be more supportive of your efforts.
10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays
(By Amy Goyer, AARP)
For some family caregivers, the holidays can be a joyful time when spirits are lighter. It feels good to care for loved ones and enjoy time together, celebrating with family traditions. But for many the holidays also bring added stress — an already busy caregiver finds there’s even more to do during the holidays. Something’s gotta give! It’s OK to give yourself a bit of a break this year. Here are some tips to help you make it through the holiday season with more joy and less stress.
1. Focus on what is most meaningful
As much as we’d like to create the perfect holiday experience, remember that perfection is not the goal of the holidays — meaning and joy are. There are many factors we can’t control when it comes to our loved ones’ health and abilities, so adjust your view of a successful holiday. Talk about prioritizing the holiday activities that hold the deepest meaning. Focus on what feels necessary to produce a holiday feeling and create good memories.
2. Simplify your holiday activities
If going all out for the holidays will push you over the edge this year, remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you can’t put out all of your decorations, choose a few items that are most significant. You might ask a friend to decorate, or pay someone to do so; you can always rearrange decorations once they are out. If going to all religious services feels like too much, choose one service that means the most. If sending greeting cards is too time-consuming, try sending e-greetings. Many family caregivers also adjust the location of celebrations or postpone holiday travel to accommodate loved ones in their care.
3. Start new traditions
Instead of focusing on losses and what you and/or your loved ones aren’t able to do this year, try doing something new. If your care recipient has trouble getting around, drive through a holiday light display or watch a holiday concert on TV. If you can’t make it to a holiday gathering, have a video chat. Are your loved ones unable to participate in decorating this year? Invite a friend over to help, with your loved ones nearby to watch and cheer you on. Start a home holiday movie night tradition — or watch old home movies so everyone can participate.
4. Adjust meals
Food is a big part of many holidays, so it’s especially difficult to think about changing mealtime traditions. But meals also require a lot of time, money and coordination. Over many years of caregiving, I found doing holiday baking and meals so exhausting that I couldn’t even enjoy them. So rather than canceling holiday meals entirely, I’ve learned to make adjustments like these:
- Simplify the menu. Try fewer side dishes or one dessert instead of three.
- Split up the grocery shopping and cooking among other family members and guests. There’s nothing wrong with a potluck.
- Pay someone to cook meals at your house ahead of time or on the holiday.
- Purchase all or part of meals at a local grocery store or restaurant — either fully cooked or ready for you to cook at home.
- Eat at someone else’s home, or at a restaurant.
5. Approach gift-giving more efficiently
Gift-giving is a part of many traditions, but it can be costly and time-consuming. Try shopping online (many online stores will also gift-wrap). You might ask a friend or relative to do your shopping and wrapping for you. You can always fall back on gift cards, too. Family caregivers are often financially stressed, so it might be necessary to lower your gift-giving budget this year and scale back the number of presents. Try giving the gift of time or attention, like scheduling outings or helping with a project. If your family is large, draw names and exchange with just one person. Have a regifting exchange, sharing items you already have. Order a photo gift — like a photo mug, pillow or calendar — or write a meaningful letter that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
6. Anticipate holiday hot buttons
Are there holiday activities or toxic relatives that trigger stress or unhappy memories? Perhaps feelings of grief or loss overcome you at certain times of day. Do unhelpful relatives arrive for the holidays and criticize your caregiving? Maybe old family issues inevitably flare up at gatherings. It may be best to limit your exposure to — or even avoid — certain places, events, conversations or people. If you can’t do that, prepare yourself. Minimize the drama; don’t try to resolve problems over the holidays. Instead, try short encounters and develop quick exit strategies. Mentally put yourself in a protective bubble, letting negative energy bounce off without hurting, annoying or distressing you.
7. Mind your mindset
Negative thinking actually activates your body’s stress response, so steer your mind to the positives when you start down that slippery slope. Try to stay mindful, concentrating on the present moment. Think about what you can accomplish instead of what isn’t getting done; celebrate what your loved ones can do, rather than dwelling on what they can no longer participate in; revel in the holiday joys you experience instead of focusing on those you bypass; appreciate the help you are receiving rather than resenting those who aren’t supportive.
8. Keep self-care at the top of the list
As caregivers, we give and give and give, and during the holidays we give even more. All that giving can leave you running on empty, with high stress levels or even full-on burnout. Be aware of emotional ups and downs, fatigue, foggy thinking, inability to sit still or the opposite — feeling frozen and unable to get anything done. These red flags have to be dealt with, but when we’re busy it’s easy to let self-care slip — just when we need it most. Find ways to fill your tank. Get plenty of sleep. Walk with loved ones in a decorated shopping mall, dance to holiday music, stretch or do jumping jacks while watching holiday movies. Enjoy holiday goodies, but be aware that too many sugary treats can make your energy crash later. Be aware of unhealthy coping skills, like overeating or drinking too much. Get outside for some mood-elevating vitamin D from sunlight, or consider therapeutic lighting if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Relax with some holiday-scented aromatherapy to soothe and boost your mood.
9. Connect with other caregivers
Other caregivers are feeling many of the same emotions you are, even when others don’t understand. Connect to share your feelings and get tips for holiday survival. If it’s difficult to get to a caregiver support group due to holiday business or weather, try online message boards or social media groups.
10. Ask for help
Even if you don’t normally do so, the holidays are a great time to get some extra help — even a few hours can be a huge relief. Family and friends can help with holiday preparations. A personal assistant or concierge can complete items on your holiday to-do list or handle personal things like organizing mail or running errands. Get someone to clean the house or catch up on laundry. Ask family and friends to help with direct care for your loved ones, or try community resources like adult day care centers, in-home or facility-based respite care, or paid home health aides/caregivers.
Remember, you’ll be happier if you can go with the flow and expect that there will be some delays, a crisis or two and maybe some disappointments. Our family spent Christmas in the hospital with my dad one year when he was sick. We made the most of it with decorations and music and festive hats and antlers. The hospital prepared a darn good holiday meal for us, too. The bottom line is that this time is precious. Savor the moments with your loved ones and make good memories you can cherish forever.
For more on caregiving, visit AARP’s Care Guides.
About CarePartners: CarePartners is a nonprofit, volunteer led organization that provides support, education, and resources for caregivers and quality care for those living with memory loss and other challenges of aging. Much of our care is for the vulnerable elderly and individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementia. CarePartners, serves all people at no cost. We provide life-changing care as well as educational and support services to more than 5,700 people in the Greater Houston and Waco areas. Our award-winning volunteer Care Team® model includes more than 2,500 individuals who help support our four primary programs; Gathering Place, Second Family, Common Ground and Caregiver Educational Events while providing over 122,000 volunteer caregiving hours yearly which equals over $3.1 million of free care.