The upcoming holiday season can cause caregivers mixed emotions. When the music, commercials and ads are all focusing on how to make the season “merry and bright,” you might be filled with dread for what you anticipate will be an extra drain on your energy, your emotions, and your preparation time. It is also very common to experience a sense of loss for the way things “used to be.” At a time when you believe you “should” be happy, you could instead find that stress, disappointment, and sadness prevail. Get rid of the “should” in your thinking!
Take a deep breath and realize that you already are a gift to your loved one. Here are a few suggestions that I have culled from a number of sources to help you stress less, keep your sanity, and experience the true meaning of the season – LOVE!
Adjust your expectations!
Begin by taking a good look at what you can realistically do to celebrate the season. Consider what may be expected of you, both socially and emotionally. What does the holiday season mean to you, your loved one, and your family? Give yourself permission this year to do less. Pick and choose what traditions and activities are most important. How much of the planning and execution can be done together with your loved one and family members? Perhaps it’s time to modify or start new traditions.
Keep your sanity by keeping celebrations simple. You may need to schedule and limit holiday visits of family and friends to certain times or days. Consider having gatherings with a few people at a time. Plan a slow-paced brunch or noon meal, rather than a late dinner when you and your loved one are apt to be tired.
Help manage others expectations!
Prepare your loved one for any upcoming events. Try to keep to their daily routine as much as possible. Let them help with decorations, baking, icing cookies, wrapping presents, signing holiday cards, or whatever they are still capable of doing that they might enjoy. Build in rest/quiet times for them, especially if you will be visiting in others’ homes. Keep in mind that it is exhausting for a person living with dementia to try to make sense of everything around them, especially when the noise and activity levels are overwhelming.
Prepare family members or friends who will visit ahead of time as to what to expect. If they haven’t seen your loved one in a while, familiarize them with your loved one’s condition and any behavior changes. An easy way to do this is via an e-mail letter where you express that you are eager to see them, but to make it a rewarding experience for all concerned, you need to update them on some of the changes in your loved one’s condition.
Let them know that you intend, as much as possible, to control stress this holiday. Let them know your wishes. Remind them not to ask a lot of questions, especially “Don’t you remember….?” Discuss the need for them to be patient, to speak slowly in a relaxed tone, one person at a time, and not to argue.
Schedule their visits at your loved one’s best time of day. Ask them to bring photos or their favorite traditional holiday foods to share. Delegate tasks that will give you some relief, such as setting the table, helping cook, doing dishes.
Play holiday music and sings carols together. Music is a great way to enjoy each other’s company. Music also stimulates long-term memories.
Take care of yourself!
The holidays are opportunities to share time with people you love, but trust your instincts. Resist the pressure to celebrate the way others might want or expect you to. Make these celebrations easy on yourself so that you may concentrate on enjoying the time together with your loved one, your family and friends.
You might want to arrange for someone to stay with your loved one while you attend a holiday religious service, or take a few hours of a break away to meet up and enjoy time with your friends.
It is so important that, as a caregiver, you not only take good care of your loved one, but you also take good care of yourself. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Feast of the Three Kings, remember that the only ideal one is when you decide to make the holiday season a reflection of your values, dreams, affections, and traditions. You are the gift that keeps on giving day in and day out as the primary caregiver, not just during the holidays, but all year round.
May you and your loved ones experience the true joys of a memorable holiday season! I wish you peace, patience, love, and joy today and every day!
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Dementia advocate and trainer, Teepa Snow, offers additional tips for the holidays: http://myalzheimersstory.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Teepa-Snows-Holiday-Tips.pdf
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The Midlands Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Omaha, NE, prepared a booklet with more holiday suggestions: https://www.alz.org/documents/midlandschapter/holiday_tips_for_caregivers_booklet_web-11.pdf.
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To help put you in the holiday mood, watch this YouTube video from The Piano Guys that combines Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” with Handel’s, “Joy to the World:” https://www.Youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=JyVEKsNFDjw.