By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LMSW, Senior Care Advisor
The holiday season will soon be upon us. Like many of you, my relationship with this time of year turned complicated when I became a caregiver. Although I always look forward to spending time with my family, I also feel a sense of trepidation. As many of us who have cared for a family member know, the season can bring new demands and unforeseen changes. As family events are laden with high expectations and nostalgia for cherished traditions, holiday survival for caregivers is largely about accepting change, and rolling with the punches. Easier said than done, right? Well, here are five tips I’ve learned through my personal and professional experiences with caregiving; I hope they will prove helpful in working through some of your own holiday challenges.
1. Manage expectations. This is especially important for long-distance caregivers, who will likely use the holidays as a time to assess changes in their loved ones’ physical and mental health. Recognize that some things are out of your control (such as the progression of your mother’s Alzheimer’s), and that this year’s holiday celebrations will not mirror those of five years ago. But don’t assume that they will be disastrous, either. Rejoice that your mother is here to celebrate another holiday, and focus on what you and your family can still share. Resolve to experience your holiday season in the present, and try not to dwell on what is different.
2. Don’t overdo it. When my father’s ALS made it too hard for him to spend extended periods of time in large groups, we reluctantly canceled our traditional Thanksgiving feast. And you know what? It was fine. My little family unit had a great time with just us. However, if canceling altogether would throw your family into tumult, consider ways to modify old traditions. If Mom can no longer manage cooking for 20 people, dial the celebration down. Include only immediate family, and ask everyone to bring food. Or have them over for dessert rather than the whole shebang. And remember, if you are doing most of the caregiving for a loved one, do not take on the additional burden of hosting a celebration yourself!
3. Plan ahead. When your family is planning holiday celebrations, you may need to consider things that you have always taken for granted. Does your sister’s house have a railing on the front steps? A bathroom on the first floor? In addition to assigning responsibilities such as food shopping, cooking, table setting and cleanup, you and your family may want to devise a “Plan B” in case your loved one becomes agitated or fatigued midway through the event. For example, if talking becomes a strain, festive music may provide a welcome break. And if you are taking time during the holidays to discuss care planning for your parents, strategize where and when you will have these discussions, and who will be present.
4. Prepare others. Inform everyone in advance about your loved one’s situation. For example, if your father with dementia becomes agitated when he hears loud noises, then ask Uncle Bob whether he can try to lower his guffawing a few decibels. If your mom tires easily, warn your guests that you may ask them to leave earlier than usual. Don’t be embarrassed or attempt to hide your parent’s condition. Cluing others in will encourage them to be more understanding and helpful.
5. Prioritize self-care. When you’re flying, there is a reason you are told to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. Similarly, if you burn out on caregiving, then you will not be able to provide the ongoing support that your loved one needs. So don’t break your exercise routine; get some fresh air and walk off that cornbread stuffing between dinner and football. Take frequent breaks and treat yourself (I’m a big proponent of napping and splurging on massages)! Sad, overwhelmed, stressed? Talk about those feelings with a loved one, a therapist, or your Care Advisor. Laugh and cry—both are good stress relievers. And accept help whenever you can. During the holiday season, people are more willing than ever to be there for you.
Are the holidays bringing up questions and concerns? Contact a care advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 and we’ll be happy to support you and your love one’s care needs.