Caregivers are stretched to the max most of the year, but the stress can take on an entirely different meaning during the holiday season.
Expectations and Traditions
First and foremost, caregivers must be realistic. Our culture tends to paint a perfect holiday picture of families gathered around a fireplace, drinking eggnog, and laughing happily. That happens, of course, but it doesn’t show the caregiver in the background frantically trying to keep it all together and meet each generation’s expectations of holiday bliss.
Caregivers must acknowledge that being realistic will save a lot of undue stress. If a loved one needs extra attention, especially with the holidays, whether it involves visits, trips out and about, or even just family party hopping, it can be exhausting for the caregiver and loved one alike.
Large gatherings often can be overwhelming for a loved one, so a caregiver might suggest family members visit on an individual basis, spending quieter quality time together. This is especially true for loved ones with dementia.
Make a list of traditions and prioritize which ones can realistically be held onto and which ones perhaps must be adapted or eliminated. It’s not a failure if some get skipped or changed to accommodate a family’s new needs and dynamics. Every new holiday will bring with it new memories of times with loved ones, regardless of the wheres and hows.
Guilt is something a caregiver struggles with over the holidays and usually ties into the level of care they are providing. It’s time-consuming to be aware and provide for someone else’s needs and make time for visiting family members, traveling that they must do, etc.
The holiday season is a time of joy and family, and a loved one will appreciate that no matter how it’s celebrated or if things may change. Keeping traditions is important, but a caregiver must realize new traditions can begin at any time.
Prepare Others for Changes
Managing expectations and opening the door for a helpful family starts with a “pep” talk. If the extended family is unaware of the extra burden and stress a caregiver is handling, they are unable to be of help. It’s easy for children and grandchildren to swoop in, as usual, expecting Mom’s best ham on the table, and not realize the effort it took to put it there.
A few small changes can make holiday caregiving easier:
1. Host a potluck meal.
2. Explain a loved one’s circumstances or special needs to guests beforehand.
3. Name tags may be helpful.
4. Prioritize your activities.
5. Keep visits shorter.
6. Find creative ways to make gift-giving less of a hassle.
Preparing the loved one with special needs for the holiday festivities can be as important as preparing the rest of the family. If someone has problems around sundown, celebrate earlier in the day and have them in a safe, comfortable place later in the evening. Play familiar music and serve familiar foods that will not make them feel anxious or confused. Showing pictures of those coming to visit will also help ease any confusion and embarrassment if they can’t remember names and familial relationships.
The balancing act can be tricky for a caregiver, but with a little prep and a lot of patience, the holidays can be a fun time, giving a family the opportunity to make a lot of new memories to last a lifetime. Sometimes the way it’s “always been done” is not the way it “needs” to be done.
Almost all caregiving advice articles mention the importance of asking for help. Yes, it’s important to do it year-round, but during the holidays, even more so.
One part of getting help is making sure the caregiver gets enough sleep, exercise, and good nutrition. It’s difficult to take care of others when not taking care of yourself first. Cliché, yes, but true nonetheless. This respite care comes in many forms. If you need assistance and self-care is not an option, you do have choices. Choices come in the form of caregiver respite vouchers and by choosing aid in the form of in-home care provided in the comfort of your own home that still evokes warm feelings of comfort, security, and well-being. Get to know us at DayBreak by calling us at 803-226-0288 and let us provide you with a free home and care assessment of your needs.
We can share with you our resources through our in-home care and provide local Holiday Hope.
Linda Lucas is the Community Relations Director of DayBreak Adult Care Services Inc., an in-home caregiving service that provides care in Aiken, North Augusta, and Barnwell. Call for in-home care information at 803-226-0288 or daybreakaiken.com