Caregiver Corner: Surviving the Holidays

Pamela Atwood, MA, CDP, Director of Dementia Care Services

Holidays represent opportunities for togetherness, love, laughter and sharing with family and friends. In reality, they can be stressful times for everyone. They can be completely overwhelming to caregivers, and often represent loss, sadness and disappointment. Keeping these survival tips in mind will help caregivers make the most of this holiday season.

Be realistic
Know your limits, and the limits of your loved one. Adjusting expectations will help caregivers, family and friends. Activities often need to be simplified and minimized to reduce stress levels. If you usually serve 20 people, serve only 5 this year. Or instead of making all the food, have guests bring the holiday dishes that mean the most to them. Caregivers can expect the normal tensions of the season, plus the stress of caregiving responsibilities. Let others know what they can do for you – and then let them do it!

Involve your loved one but recognize signs of stress in them
The care recipient may want to participate in festivities, but not feel comfortable in large crowds. Observe for symptoms of increasing anxiety or cues that s/he is becoming over stimulated. Explain to your host in advance that you may need to leave early and unexpectedly. Avoid a scene by explaining in advance. For people with dementia, most gatherings must be with smaller groups and for shorter periods of time than in the past.

Try to stick to routines
Especially if your care recipient has dementia, sticking to the usual routine is very important. Taking on too many holiday tasks will stress out caregivers and thus care recipients.

Adapt gift giving
Ask for gifts that are useful, such as adaptive, washable clothing, tapes of favorite music or old movies, respite time, subscriptions to newspapers or magazines, or labeled family photo albums. Beware of toxic plants, such as poinsettias, holly and mistletoe.

Take care of yourself
Be sure to get enough rest, eat properly and exercise. Caregiving depletes your physical and emotional energy; caring for yourself can get it back. Limit alcohol consumption (a depressant drug). Be realistic about our own emotional needs but keep a sense of humor – the best coping strategy to survive the holiday season.

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