The holidays can be fun, festive, and magical. They can also be hectic, stressful, and challenging—especially for those caring for aging loved ones. According to the Caregiver Action Network, family caregivers spend an average of 20 hours a week providing care to older adults with special needs—and those with dementia or Alzheimer’s require an even greater commitment of time from family members.
It’s estimated that this holiday season, approximately 34 million spouses, sons, daughters, grandchildren, and others will be balancing their long-term caregiving responsibilities with family, work, and holiday planning.
To help you manage your time while keeping your loved one safe and engaged in the fun of the holidays, here are some tips to help prepare you for a stress-free holiday:
Be clear about your holiday plans
Oftentimes, “fitting it all in” becomes the focus of the holidays, but overbooking yourself can add a lot of stress to the season. Instead, decide early on what you want and don’t want to do. Be realistic about your time and choose the invitations you’re excited to take. Don’t feel guilty about opting out of plans that put a burden on your already busy schedule.
Prepare your loved one for events outside of their normal routine
When you are caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, preparation can mean the difference between peaceful moments and difficult behaviors. Prepare your loved one for holiday parties by sharing your plans a few weeks ahead of time. Talk about what they can expect and who else will be there. Use pictures to help them identify the faces they will see. If your loved one has very specific dietary needs, prepare the foods they enjoy ahead of time and bring the meal with you.
Create new traditions with your loved ones
The challenge of both caregiving and the holidays is finding the time to get it all done. From shopping to decorating, traditions that may have been easy to honor in the past seem impossible to accomplish now. Instead of adding the pressure of perfecting those traditions, create new ones that are more in line with the lifestyle you now live. Mixing new and old traditions can allow for a much more balanced and stress-free holiday season.
Ensure their environment is safe
The holiday season often involves traveling and visiting friends and relatives in their homes. While these outings can be great fun, they could also pose risks for seniors, such as falling. Before your visit, perhaps you can express your concern to your host and ask that they keep that in mind when preparing for guests. Throw rugs, dim lighting, and decorations can create tripping hazards. If you can’t remediate them, be sure that your loved one has assistance when moving about. Those with dementia or Alzheimer’s will need special attention to ensure they don’t get distracted and wander in an unfamiliar environment. Taking turns watching out for your loved ones gives everyone a chance to enjoy the festivities.
Enlist a backup caregiver so you can go out more
Your loved one may have certain stress triggers, like loud noises or crowds that make it difficult for them to enjoy an event, especially events with unfamiliar guests. Instead of canceling your plans, reach out to another family member, friend, or neighbor to sit with your loved one for the night. Ask a person your loved one enjoys spending time with and plan a special activity, like a movie marathon or arts and crafts project that they can do together to make the evening special for everyone.
Consider a professional caregiver to assist
A professional home caregiver such as a home health aide can be the helpful, watchful eye when you’re not there, or they can accompany you and your family while you enjoy the holiday season. Independence Home Health & Hospice’ aides are trained to care for the needs of aging seniors, keeping them safe and comfortable in and out of their home. Make the most of this most wonderful time of year—for you and your loved one. The greatest gift of the season is peace—and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your loved one is in good hands.