Caregiving through the holidays: Caregiver survival tips

For most families, holidays are filled with opportunities for togetherness, sharing, laughter and memories. However holidays can also be filled with stress, disappointment and feelings of sadness and loss. Families dealing with the challenges of a loved one with dementia may feel a unique sense of loss and grief more evident during the holiday season.

Caregivers may feel overwhelmed in their effort to maintain holiday traditions as well as caring for the person with dementia. Caregivers may also feel hesitant to invite or be invited to other family and friends events for fear they will react negatively to the person who is changing as a result of the disease process.

If you are feeling guilty, angry, frustrated and overwhelmed during these holidays celebrations, it may help to know that these feelings are normal and that as a caregiver you are not alone. The MN/ND Alzheimer’s Association has some suggestions that may help ease and minimize some of the caregiver challenges that can occur during this busy time of the year and even create a positive and memorable holiday season.

– Adjust Expectations-Discuss holiday celebrations ahead of time and pre-plan as much as possible with relatives and close friends. Be open and honest about the situation, any changes, and what you feel would be in the best interest of the person with dementia.

– Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Attempt to lower expectations and minimize events attended to ensure no one becomes overwhelmed or over tired. Consider downsizing events, potlucks or ordering meals in. Learn to delegate responsibilities and set limits regarding what you feel you can and cannot participate.

– Involve the person with dementia in preparation of events and activities that are safe and manageable for their functioning level as to not frustrate or overwhelm them or yourself.

– Maintain the person’s normal routine and attend events or get together’s that are the best time of day for that person. Maintain their important schedule such as meals, rest time, exercise, and medications given at the regular time.

– Build on past traditions and memories by combining the old and familiar with new traditions and passing traditional roles on to newer generations, such as holiday baking.

– Adapt Gift Giving such as comfortable easy to remove clothing, audio tapes of favorite music, videos of family, photo alums or gift certificates for phone calls or supportive service agencies such as meals on wheels, homemaker services and respite care.

– Try not to neglect our own needs as a caregiver by continuing to reach out for support, get your rest, eat healthy, and maintain your own activities of leisure such as socializing, exercise or hobbies of interest. Don’t be hesitant to ask for help and delegate responsibilities.

– Practice flexibility by considering celebrating earlier in the day and having a brunch or early afternoon celebration and meal rather than later in the day to avoid fatigue and over stimulation. Simplifying the menu from a formal sit down meal to a buffet or finger foods and snacks that are available throughout the day or evening.

– Consider respite care for your loved one if certain events would be to stressful or overwhelming for them such as Christmas programs or other holiday events that would place them in an unfamiliar environment with lots of people and noise. Caregiver’s and family members would then be able to enjoy these events with minimal stress knowing that their loved one is comfortable and safe in a familiar environment.

Remember that holidays are opportunities to share with the people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with dementia so that you can concentrate on enjoying your time together.

Have a safe and blessed holiday season,