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  • Writer's pictureMeg Pemberton

Tips for Caregivers: Managing the Holidays

With Thanksgiving just one week away the holiday season is now in full swing. Families everywhere are finalizing plans for hosting, menus, gifts, and travel. Everyone is looking to make the season less stressful and more enjoyable. Family caregivers have the added stress of managing the season while continuing to care for their loved ones. Enjoying the holiday season is difficult when caring for your elderly parents takes priority. However, it is still possible to not only enjoy the holidays but to make them memorable as well. Here are some tips for caregivers to help manage the holiday season.

The Situation Determines the Plan

For many years where we spent our holidays largely depended upon the shift work my husband and I both experienced in our careers; as a nurse and paramedic. Our children grew up knowing that Santa could and would visit on Christmas Eve when mom and dad worked Christmas Day. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins understood as well and gladly accommodated our requests to travel to us versus us to them. With a large family, there was always chaos and fun. We have many wonderful memories created during those years.

When mom and dad moved closer to me, due to their failing health, we moved holiday celebrations to their new home; a two bedroom apartment in a senior living apartment complex. Mom struggled to maintain some sense of normalcy as my dad journeyed further into his Alzheimer’s disease. The chaos, not to mention the noise, amped up. Mom being one who knew no strangers had always invited newly discovered friends to join us and these last few holidays were no different. I remember feeling somewhat resentful meeting these strangers. I knew we had few holidays left to spend with mom and dad. I didn’t want to share that with new friends. In the end, mom was happiest in this chaos and more memories were created.

We didn’t know our last holiday season with mom and dad would be the last though I had suspected it would be. This holiday mom was living with us and dad was living in an assisted living facility. We struggled with whether or not to bring dad home for Christmas. The adjustment to his new environment had been long and difficult. The memory of seeing my dad looking lost and alone as we left him that first day in his new home was seared (still is) in my brain. This drove my decision, our decision, to visit him rather than being him home. I didn’t think I could bring him back and leave him again.

Avoiding Stress: Managing it When You Can’t

My eldercare journey is different than yours. Though we may share similarities, your situation will determine how you plan your holidays. It’s important to find ways to reduce stress. AARP has several excellent recommendations (click here to see their full list).

· Take advantage of what you know relieves your stress (e.g.: visit with friends, go to a movie, exercise).

· Practice self-care. This is more than just relieving stress. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you keep that cup full. Do you have a self-care checklist? Click here for one.

· Simplify! Adopt a less is more approach. Cut out what doesn’t bring you joy. Set limits. Recognize what you can and cannot do. Don’t over promise.

· Plan ahead as much as possible but remain flexible. Things rarely go as planned. Be prepared to let it go. Got the turkey in late? Play another board game! Forgot to make the stuffing? They didn’t even notice when I did!

· Ask for help; be deliberate about what you need. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to care for your parents so you can get some much needed time alone or with family and friends. Find respite so you’ll be refreshed and better able to enjoy your holidays while providing care to those you love. (Respite fills that cup back up.)

The Gift of Giving: New Traditions

Did I mention that my family is pretty big? There are six siblings, six grandchildren, a few spouses, two of us are now “in-laws,” two grandchildren (mom and dad’s great-grandchildren), and many adopted family members introduced to us by my mom over the years. I mentioned chaos, didn’t I? We began dabbling with new traditions as the grandchildren became teens and young adults. We tried pulling names out of a hat; we failed. Mom couldn’t contain herself to just one of us. We tried dollar limits. We failed. We tried to do just stocking stuffers. The stockings just got bigger.

Finally, we tried the “White Elephant” gift exchange. Dad enjoyed it! Even though his memory was failing he somehow managed to outsmart us all and ended up with exactly the gift he wanted (pretty much all of us wanted that one gift). There was less chaos and less noise; exactly what dad needed. We had a lot of fun that night. We created special memories.

Traditions are meant to be passed along from one generation to the next. However, it’s okay to create new traditions (they have to start somewhere). Often our situations demand it. When mom and dad passed we struggled to keep some of the traditions alive. We still do. But as our children have grown some traditions have been outgrown as well. This year is our first season with a son-in-law and our first with a daughter (and said son-in-law) living 1500 miles away from us. New traditions await us.

Focus on What’s Important: Time Spent Together

When the holidays are over, what will you remember most? Too often we remember the holidays as the “holidaze.” Sometime after Halloween we start planning, shopping, visiting, cooking, wrapping, and stressing. If you’re a caregiver, add providing care for your loved ones, your elderly parents or others. Take a moment and ask yourself, what is most important this holiday season? Likely you’ll answer with less stress, time with family, good memories.

This year, focus on what’s most important. You can enjoy less stress and enjoy time with family and friends. Be sure to take care of yourself first. Avoid triggers that will stress you. Recognize and accept your situation as a caregiver. Plan ahead but be flexible; have a plan B. Don’t be afraid to mix things up; create new traditions. Ask for help. No one expects you to do it all. Make sure you spend quality time with friends and family. Create lasting memories to sustain you in the years to come. It is possible.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season!


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