Holidays can be a stressful time for anyone—cleaning the house, preparing meals and playing host are all demanding tasks— but Christmastime can be particularly difficult for caregivers. When you are responsible for the health and wellbeing of someone else every day of the year, including holidays, you may feel like you cannot participate in events as you would like. If your parent or other elderly loved one has dementia, and is easily overwhelmed by the bustle of the season, the holidays can be downright excruciating.
Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your stress and your loved one’s anxiety levels this holiday season.
1. Schedule events early in the day to help you and your loved one avoid fatigue and agitation.
Do your best to include your loved one in the preparations and celebrations as participation helps your loved one feel as if they are being useful, but be aware of their limitations. Focusing on his or her strengths, choose activities that are appropriate to your loved one’s abilities. Just be sure to schedule plenty of adequate rest breaks in between busy events. Consider reserving some time at the end of the day for quiet conversation and storytelling. You may find that talking about holiday celebrations of the past, sharing recipes, or recalling favorite family memories can have a calming effect on everyone.
2. Keep decorations simple to minimize clutter.
Choose outdoor decorations to impress your guests as they arrive, but leave indoor decorations to a minimum. Display only a few gifts—just enough to give your home a festive feel—and store the rest away from view. An overabundance of gifts can cause clutter and create hazards, especially if they spill into traffic areas. A mountain of presents can also be an overwhelming, confusing and stressful sight for your loved one.
3. Limit the number of guests to keep noise and confusion to a minimum.
Invite guests your loved one already knows, when possible, to reduce confusion and fear. Being in a crowded place can be a stressful experience for a senior with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and you will feel less stressed out if your loved one feels confident and secure.
Whenever possible and appropriate, make each guest aware of any significant emotional or physical problem that your loved one may be facing. This can help your guests be aware of limitations, avoid potentially embarrassing questions and prepare them for any changes they may see in your loved one.
4. Try to limit disruptions.
Secure a quiet place in your home where your loved one can take a break from the hustle and bustle of celebrations. Be on the lookout for signs of agitation and stress, so that you can give your loved one a much-needed a moment away. Sit with your loved one, or ask a trusted family member to stay.
Keep your schedule as close to your daily routine as possible, as even a slight change in routine can cause anxiety and confusion. This is especially true for meals, medications and sleep schedules.
5. Be mindful of your own mental and emotional health.
Many caregivers feel the burden of providing assistance to a loved one particularly strongly during the holidays, and some may even feel resentful towards other family members who do not participate in that care. This resentment may bubble to the surface at family gatherings, as stressed-out caregivers take on the additional responsibilities of traditional holiday preparations. Without proper preparation, stress and anxiety can turn any family gathering into a disaster, so take time for yourself this holiday season. Do you have an extra houseguest or two who can care for your loved one? Great! Use the opportunity to go shopping, go out for a coffee with friends, or catch a movie. If you cannot sneak out for a few hours, pamper yourself with a luxuriously long bath, take a nap, or catch up on a favorite television show.
If you will be providing care to an elderly loved one this holiday season, take early measures to ensure a stress-free holiday. Take the time to reflect on what makes the holidays so special for you and your loved one.