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Practical Caregiving

Caregiving Tips to Make the Holidays Merry

By Jean Donahue

The holidays are such a time of joy for many people. That joy is greatest when the people around us are healthy and like their lives and future. But for the rest of us in caregiving roles, the holidays can be a time of great frustration -- our loved one is ill. For some of us, our loved one doesnít even know there is a holiday.

At times the feelings are overwhelming. And for those of us in this situation, we often ask: What can I do to make this holiday season joyful for my loved one Ė and for me?

When I first started taking care of my parents, they had traveled south in the winter and had shared many holidays with their friends. Mom hadnít known me as her daughter for many years because of her Alzheimerís disease, but Dad was alert and could think well by the time the holiday season came around. I didnít know how retired people in Arizona celebrated, but some very good friends of my parents filled me in. I was so relieved when they invited us to their place for the day.

It was a different story the last couple of years with my parents. We were home because of the strokes Dad had and I didnít know what to do. I asked both of them what they wanted to do but didnít get any answer that would help. I thought about what to do, asked people, then finally came upon my own plan that I thought they would like. Since they couldnít go anywhere, I decided to try to create a Christmas and New Yearís like those they experienced at home when they were children. That was where Mom thought she was, and Dad regressed to his youth every time he had a stroke. My idea seemed to fit well with the situation.

Since that time I have read a lot about what to do during the holidays. What will bring the most joy for both you and your loved one Ė and what will be the least stressful.

As a caregiver, you must be sure to include your own desires and needs at the busy holiday season. Specifically:

  • Donít give up everything you want in order to please your loved one. You need to enjoy the season yourself, as well as help your loved one enjoy it. Plan something special for yourself that does not include your loved one. It will refresh you, and you will enjoy the holidays with your loved one much more.
  • Try to be joyful and relaxed. You will find that both of you will enjoy this season more.
  • Donít try to do everything you used to do for the holidays. You need to take care of yourself and your loved one. Do the most important things and the ones that you and your loved enjoy the most. If you used to bake two-dozen cookies for each grandchild, cut it back to five or six cookies. Or, buy them from a good bakery.

If your loved one is in an assisted living facility or nursing home, what will work the best for them?

  • If you take them to a family gathering or to your home, will it be too stressful for them? You might want to look at how they handle it when you take them out at other times of the year. If it has been too stressful, then donít take them out now.
  • If you donít take them out, arrange for family and friends to visit. You might want to have people visit on a schedule on one certain day, or extend visits over several days. You also need to decide how many people should visit at one time, or in one day. Think back over the year. How did they react in both situations? Use the past (especially the recent past) as a guideline for the present.
  • Try to involve them in planning the holiday. They are still the same person and want to enjoy life as much as possible. Is there anything special they did in years past -- traditions? Donít forget to make plans that include activities at the facility where they live.

If your loved one is living in their home or your home, what is the best way to help them enjoy the holiday?

  • Be sure to involve them in the holiday preparations and traditions. They are still part of the family and they still have the same feelings, even though they might not be able to express those feelings as they did.
  • Do they want to be at family gatherings, or would they rather see a few people at a time? Again, let them be involved with who they will see and when.

Here are some things you can do in both situations.

  • Go over any card list with them. Talk about the people, what they used to do together, what they are doing now, and anything else they want to discuss or reminisce over.
  • When they received cards, or you receive cards, read them together with your loved one. Keep them involved with the season.
  • Listen to holiday songs and even sing them with your loved one. This can be a very calming time for both of you.
  • If you can, take your loved one out to see the holiday lights and anything else either of you wants to see or do.
  • Check the television schedule for holiday specials that you and your loved one will enjoy. Talk about those programs before they are broadcast. Thinking and talking about a good program that you both want to see is very enjoyable and relaxing.
  • Talk about holidays from the past Ė what you did, who was there, how those people are today.

Always make a point to tell your loved one that you love them and want to be with them at this special time of year -- that being with them makes this season special for you. When you consider your loved oneís desires and needs along with your own desires and needs, you will find this holiday season to be extra special and one that you both will remember.

Those holidays I spent while taking care of Mom and Dad are more special and memorable than the ones I spent with them earlier. My parents enjoyed their holidays through good times and bad, but I enjoyed them also. Iím so glad I spent those holidays with them, and wouldnít change anything if I could have.