With the holidays just around the corner and all the associated craziness they bring, this might be a good time to take a deep breath and get a clear picture of what you'll face as a caregiver in the next few weeks. Caring for an older loved one can be stressful and challenging in the best of times. During the holiday season, stresses and challenges can be even more overwhelming. Keeping things simple can help make life easier for both you and your loved one.

The holidays are a time to share joy and laughter with family and friends, but it can be bittersweet for a caregiver. A caregiver needs to find the balance between their past traditions and what they can realistically do today. It's okay to adjust your holiday expectations.

Remember that holidays are not easy for your loved one either. Noise and commotion, unfamiliar sights, sounds and people and a change in their routine can create frustration and stress in them. This, in turn, can cause difficult behaviors in your loved one which can increase stress for you and everyone involved.

Here are some things to keep in mind during this holiday season:

  1. Recognize that this year things will be different. Prepare your family and friends so they understand your caregiving situation in advance. They need to know about behaviors and routines, schedules, and needs. Let them know that the celebrations and traditions will be scaled down...but not stopped. You aren't being selfish. You are a caregiver. Your time and energy go to caring for another person, and that is no small feat.
  2. If family or friends ask to help, say yes! Have a list made up of tasks that others can do easily-pick up groceries, make a meal, bake Christmas cookies, drop off packages at the post office, walk the dog, or visit with your loved one while you are busy.
  3. Decide which holiday traditions are most important to you and focus on those. Is it decorating a tree, baking holiday treats, sending out cards, attending parties, or going to traditional church services? Focus on those which that will give you happiness and contentment and feed your soul.
  4. Encourage family and friends to visit, but keep their visits short. Limit visits to a few people at a time. Help your visitors understand the needs and limitations of your loved one and coach them on how to interact...suggest reminiscing about past events and celebrations. "Remember when" discussions work well. Ask them to bring along old photographs to help start conversations.
  5. As Dr. Jicha mentioned during the Lunch & Learn at the Senior Resource Fair, make sure there is a space for your loved one to retreat to when things seem overwhelming. Remember their threshold for noise, excitement, and confusion are lower now. They may need to rest and have some quiet time when you are entertaining.
  6. When entertaining family and friends here are a few things to avoid:
  • Large groups of people
  • Loud noise or conversation
  • Drastic changes in surroundings and light - an overabundance of holiday decorations and blinking tree lights can cause confusion.
  • Over indulgence of rich food and drink
  • Changes in regular routine

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Involve your loved one as much as possible. Help them be part of the preparation and the celebration. Wrapping gifts, preparing food, decorating cookies, deciding on what gifts family and friends receive, setting the table and putting out a few favorite decorations. But do it all within their abilities and comfort zone.
  2. Try to follow your loved one's regular routine during the holiday preparations. Too many new tasks on one day may be tiring and confusing which can lead to unnecessary stress and frustration.
  3. Build on past traditions with new simpler ones. Redefine your definition of 'success'; making the most of what really matters to you rather than what you think is expected of you. Unrealistic expectations will just feed your holiday stress.
  4. Be aware that the holidays can increase and compound feelings of sadness in both you and your loved one. If you are able to talk with your loved one about what they would like, do so. Ask them what would make them most comfortable or happy. Remember that too many options can be overwhelming. So limit your choices: "Dad, what would you like - just immediate family and a quiet dinner at home or family and close friends over in the afternoon?" If your loved one is unable to choose, you decide. You know them and know what they would have liked in the past. Your decision won't be wrong if it comes from a place of love.

With a little forethought, planning and a willingness to revise your holiday expectations, you, your loved one and your family can have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season.

Have a safe and happy holiday from Work Life/Elder Care.