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Caregiving Chronicles will present news and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and around the world, in-depth Q&As with experts in fields related to caregiving and updates and announcements about caregiving resources available in MetroWest from CaregivingMetroWest.org Program Director Douglas Flynn.


Tips for Caregivers during the Holidays
By DebraMcDonagh / December 10, 2018

Holidays can be a time of joy, gratitude, and love. But, for many of us, preparing for the holidays can also put even more tasks and responsibilities on our already full plates. Caring for a dependent loved one can take a lot out of you, so feeling the pressure to put on a happy face and organize decorations or gatherings can make us feel even more depleted. Feeling this way is not uncommon, and you are not alone. We have compiled a few ideas for tackling holiday planning in a way that you too can enjoy them. 

Revise traditions – simplify plans while still sharing family time. 

While holiday traditions are special, it is likely that we remember them as being more perfect then what they may have been. Our holiday memories can often be idealized because we prefer to remember the good parts. When planning, keep in mind that being together is what is really important, not how perfectly things are intended to play out.

It is perfectly O.K. to create new traditions even if “that’s not the way it’s always been done.” Review your family traditions and revise them so that they factor in your current family dynamic, your personal time constraints and the health restrictions of the person you care for. This approach will significantly help to alleviate some of the pressure that the holidays can add to our lives. Scale back; focus on only the essentials of what is most important to your family unit.

It is also important to take into account that the loved one you’re caring for most likely doesn’t want to be a burden either, so by modifying traditions, you both have an opportunity to relieve yourselves of guilt and stress. Let relaxed and simplified family time become your new tradition.

  • Utilize technology: Instead of large family gatherings, set up a video chat, enlisting the help of younger family members if needed. This way, you can all see each other and share some smiles and laughs without exhausting yourself by hosting, or your loved one with travel or too many visitors. 
  • Keep it simple: Instead of a big traditional dinner, watch a favorite holiday movie together. Serve snacks to visitors like popcorn, pizza or sandwiches; foods that can be eaten during the movie. This way, you can sit and enjoy this time too and your loved one will feel included.  
  • Share memories of holidays past: If you have a loved one is restricted to bed, invite just a few close family members over and for a brief time, gather around the bed and share your favorite family memory. Your loved one can enjoy the togetherness and reminisce, while still resting. If you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you know that while they often have trouble remembering a current happening, their older memories often remain intact. Encourage them to share these memories through photos, videos or stories. Younger family members will enjoy learning about the past and your loved one will enjoy the time in the family spotlight.
  • Give the gift of music: The gift of music is an easy one to give. Even if someone doesn’t have the physical energy to participate in the “merry-making” or the mental awareness they used to have, playing music that is nostalgic to the person under your care will make them feel special and part of the festivities. 

Keeping the “happy” in the Holidays.

You may find that the holidays bring out a range of mixed emotions for you. You are not alone. It is easy for us to think back to happier holidays spent with our dependent loved ones.  We often put pressure on ourselves to feel like we need to recreate those times or to feel bad about our self if we cannot. Sometimes, you may just simply not have the energy to plan or attend holiday gatherings. 

Let go of the idea of perfection, it is more of a concept than reality. Instead, just strive to do your best with your current circumstances. 

  • Recognize that it is OK to say “no.” When asked to do things over the holidays, be careful not to say yes to things that will add work for you or to things that take time from you. If you cannot get out of something, realize that you should strive to remove something else from your schedule. If you have to work late, maybe delay a household chore for a few days instead of trying to do it when you get home after work. Train yourself that this is “OK.”  
  • Be kind to yourself.  It is very common to feel exhausted, lonely, or just plain old frazzled when caregiving. It is important to know that it is not uncommon for these emotions to surface. It is not selfish. It does not lack empathy or compassion. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.  By not being angry at ourselves for these feelings and by acknowledging them, we allow them to run their course so that we can carry on. 
  • Ask for help.  When we try to do everything ourselves, we often get spread too thin. Being exhausted can trigger depressive feelings even if you are not prone to them. Asking for help will allow you to REMAIN STRONG and will help you MAINTAIN YOUR ENERGY so that you can continue to balance it all.  Book your home healthcare support in advance.  Consider respite care support.  For a list click here: Respite Care Services

Remember that self-heath is vital. Sometimes we think caring for our self is putting our needs before others. But, if you have ever taken a flight, you are aware that the flight attendant routinely asks you to “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping a loved one.”  Apply the reason behind that to the importance of taking care of you.  Think of it as a requirement, not an indulgence.

For more details and tips, we have many resources listed on our website that can help: 

Caregiver Support Programs

Caregiver Training Workshops

For other posts and articles that address these concepts, select from the following links: 

NIH National Institute on Aging - Holiday Hints for Alzheimer's Caregivers

AARP - 10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays



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Caregiving MetroWest is a no-cost program of BayPath Elder Services, Inc. and was made possible in part by grants from the MetroWest Health Foundation.

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BayPath Elder Services, Inc.'s Family Caregiver Support Program and Caregiving MetroWest are grateful for the generous support of our community partner, Avidia Bank, which helps us continue to give area family caregivers the information, resources and support they need.