Family members who care for cognitively impaired or disabled seniors may find the approaching holiday season to be more stressful than joyful. Caregivers may already feel overwhelmed by their day-to-day responsibilities and view holiday preparations as an additional source of stress. Family dynamics at the holidays can also be challenging. Primary caregivers may feel resentful toward visiting family members who they feel have not helped out enough. Family members returning home after a prolonged absence may be surprised and depressed by the decline in their senior loved one and feel that the caregiver hasn’t communicated well enough leading to arguments and discord among family members. Planning ahead and modifying holiday routines to accommodate the needs of the caregiver and the person being cared for can foster peace and good will instead of anger and frustration.
Following are some helpful suggestions for families and caregivers of seniors with cognitive and physical impairments. The holidays can be an opportunity for families to pull together and enjoy their loved ones while offering needed respite to primary caregivers.
The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) suggests alerting family members and guests ahead of the visit to the current condition of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other Dementia. This can be achieved through a letter or email explaining what to expect and offering suggestions for effective communication while educating them about daily routines. Being prepared allows family and guests to arrive with realistic expectations and an understanding that changes in behavior and functioning are caused by the disease and not the person.
It is also important for the primary caregiver to let family and friends know that their caregiving responsibilities may limit how much they can do in terms of holiday festivities. It is ok for caregivers to let others pitch in and only take on what they can reasonably manage. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests involving the person with Dementia in holiday plans, building on old traditions and adjusting activities as needed to stick to the person’s daily routine.
The Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org) offers some additional tips for making the holidays more enjoyable for the caregivers and their loved ones.
- Schedule some relaxed one-on-one time with the loved one you are caring for. Enjoy being together and plan an activity that brings back memories. Go through a photo album, unpack holiday decorations or watch an old movie that you both enjoy.
- Reflect on the rewards – caregiving is a selfless act of love, often fulfilling a promise made to a loved one long ago. Caregivers should feel proud of the vital service they perform, goals they have achieved and obstacles overcome.
- Schedule some “me” time – caregivers should ask family members for some assistance with caregiving responsibilities or bring in a paid respite caregiver to allow time to decompress and enjoy the holidays. Respite time is good for the caregiver and the person being cared for and without it everyday stress may build up and overwhelm the caregiver.