The holidays can be a stressful time of year for any family. When a family is also dealing with a loved one that needs additional caregiving, especially those with memory issues, a time of celebration can quickly become one of frustration.
Traditions are so important during the holiday season. However, maintaining traditions in the midst of being a caregiver is very trying. If there is one dominant theme to ensuring that the holidays are enjoyable for everyone, it is to LOWER EXPECTATIONS.
When we think of holidays past, we tend to remember them as perfect, blissful experiences. In reality, they probably weren’t. In fact, the person you are caring for – especially if that person is your parent – probably spent a lot of time trying to make the festivities memorable. Hopefully, these tips can help you prepare for the usual stresses the season brings, and some that are unique to caregiving, so that you can enjoy the holidays more.
Tip 1: Choose One Special Memory to Recreate
Most of the time people report that their favorite part of holidays past was spending time with loved ones. You can still do this, and you can even do some of the same activities you did for years. Bake cookies, drive through town to look at Christmas lights, attend services or create decorations. Your loved one may not remember doing them before and that’s OK. The holidays are a time to create new memories as well.
Above all, it is important to be inclusive. Help your loved one feel like they are involved no matter what stage of their disease they are in. Asking for their help with easy activities, encourage reminiscing if this isn’t a source of frustration for them and include them in conversations
Tip 2: Gift Yourself First
We stress repeatedly that caregivers cannot be at their best if they are depleted. This is especially true during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Tempers are shorter and there is more demand on everyone’s time. If you are overwhelmed, you are not going to be the kind of caregiver you want to be. Taking time for you is important. This may mean a brief daily walk, a day off from caregiving to treat yourself or do your holiday shopping, or choosing a valued friend to reconnect with. We have created a guide for family caregivers about ways to take care of yourself during this season and throughout the year.
It’s also important to evaluate where you are spending your resources, whether time or money and find areas where you can simplify. Ask family members to identify where they can help during this busy time of year. Learn to say no if you know you don’t have the time to add an activity to your calendar. If gift buying is overwhelming, especially financially, try these alternatives:
- Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
- Give homemade gifts.
- Start a family gift exchange.
Tip 3: Be Forgiving of Yourself And Others
The holidays should be a time for family and a time to set aside differences. No one is perfect. You undoubtedly feel you made mistakes with your loved one and other family members. Things may have been said or done by your loved one or other family members that caused stress, but your ability let go of past hurts, if not forever, then at least for now will make for a happier holiday. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. Caregivers need support throughout the year and extending an olive branch of peace now can have greater rewards later. Sending a holiday note to a family member to share an update on your loved one’s condition can break the ice and make others feel more included. After the holiday, a thank you note to family members or friends who spent time with your loved one sharing the impact their visit made on you and your loved one can reinforce that their presence is important.
Tip 4: Prepare For The Post-Holiday Let Down
The holidays can be joyous, but they can also be depressing for some people. Equally difficult is the post-holiday letdown. There is an adrenaline rush that helps push us through everything we think needs to be done during the season. At the end of the season, after that rush ends and you enjoy a moment of quiet, there can be an emptiness that takes the place of the busyness. You can prepare for this transition. Asking for someone to help take down decorations is a great way to talk about your feelings, reminisce about the holidays and get the job done faster!
If you start to feel down, it is very important to acknowledge the feeling. You are in a difficult stage of life. Help yourself through this downtime with a stress reliever, such as listening to music. Meditation, journaling or getting back into an exercise routine will also help reestablish your normal routine.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL: Give Your Loved One Your Best Self
You know this person. This is the person that has patience, has had enough sleep and is loving and giving. During this holiday season, as much as possible and at least for a part of each day, give your loved one the unconditional love and undivided attention they deserve. The person you love is battling an incurable, progressive disease. Each holiday after this one will likely be harder on them – and you. Limit your impulse to correct them. Choose to spend ten minutes simply being together on the sofa or in the chairs by the window. Be this person as often as you can. Then, as you move into the new year and build upon this daily approach, you will realize this was the best gift you could have given you and your loved one.