Holidays are a time to make memories, to spend time with your loved ones and pass on traditions. Holidays are also one of the most stressful times of the year.
But what about when you're a caregiver for an aging parent with dementia? Or a spouse? These situations amplify the already stressful holiday season. A caregiver may be feeling overwhelmed trying to juggle everything in addition to the holiday demands, sadness and loss from seeing their loved one fade away from them, and perhaps even disappointment that things aren't turning out as expected. Despite these additional hurdles and emotional challenges, it is still possible to have an enjoyable holiday while being a caregiver to someone with dementia.
First off, as a caregiver, adjust your expectations and do what is reasonable.
Lose the superhero image. You can't do it all so give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Prepare your loved one for the upcoming holidays by talking about and showing photos of people who are coming to visit.
Play familiar holiday music and serve traditional holiday foods. Include your loved one in the festivities! Helping wrap presents, polishing silverware and helping to decorate can all be great activities. Keep in mind that when people have dementia, their abilities are always changing so what Mom or Dad was doing last year may not be the same as this year. When it comes to activities, it's the DOING that's important, not the end product. So if Mom is enjoying herself helping wrap presents, but later on you have to go back and rewrap a few, who cares? In that moment, it brought joy to her and that's what really matters.
Sometimes it may be necessary to prepare visitors for the situation. Ask people to call before coming over and give an advanced notice to expectant visitors.
"Mom sometimes has difficulty remembering and thinking clearly, sometimes her actions are a little unpredictable," or "Don't be offended if Dad thinks you're someone else. He and I both appreciate you being here," may be good ways to explain to guests what's going on at home. Remind visitors that caregiving is a tough job, ask for support so that they can help you create a holiday memory to treasure.
During festivities, it may be beneficial to have a "quiet" room if things get too hectic and prepare distractions in advance to divert attention. Host small gatherings as to not overwhelm your loved one and try to host get-togethers early in the day when Mom or Dad is at their best. Even if wandering isn't an issue, designate someone to keep track of your loved one at all times. Avoid candles and blinking lights, noisy crowds, trip hazards such as throw rugs, wires and cords, and alcohol.
Remember to take time to yourself to reduce caregiver burden or burn out.
Something as simple as taking two hours off for yourself can do wonders. While no one expects you to do it all, be sure to do the things you treasure the most. Call upon those who offer to help and take advantage of respite care, if needed. If your loved one is in a facility, celebrate with them in the most familiar setting. Schedule visits to coincide with your loved ones best time of day and keep visitor traffic to a minimum in order do reduce anxiety. Above all, adapt what you do and take the time to enjoy the present.
For more information, contact Spring Arbor.