Handling the Holidays

Handling the Holidays

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Avoid these added pressures as a caregiver during the festive season

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Family, friends, food and fun? Or tension, anxiety, dread and even depression? The upcoming holidays will have very different meanings for different people. Family caregivers (or those supporting aging parents) can face many negative emotions at this time of year. Why? Busy caregivers can become even more overloaded and overwhelmed with seasonal demands as well as societal expectations to feel festive – understandably difficult when one is faced with a loved one’s physical and/or mental decline. After caring for both of my own aging parents, I readily admit that this time of year is not always smooth; however, there are proven methods to manage, cope and survive.

SHARE THE WORK: Why should you host the family holiday meal? Suggest potluck instead where everybody will bring a dish to serve. Remember also that many hands make for quicker cleanup after the meal is done.

LEARN TO SAY NO: Numerous invitations will be extended to celebrate at numerous social gatherings. If you are not ready to join in the fun, it’s perfectly acceptable to politely decline. Conversely, however, a party with family and/or friends could be just the ticket for caregivers to enjoy themselves.

WATCH YOUR BUDGET: Getting caught up in gift-shopping for family and friends can happen, but curtail your spending. Perhaps keep your credit card at home and shop with either cash or a bank debit card, to avoid receiving a massive credit card bill in the mail after the holidays. If you have a large family (or even if you don’t …), consider drawing names for a gift exchange. With this approach, you can better choose a more thoughtful gift for just one person, rather than a whole group of people.

TAKE CARE OF YOU: Granted, this advice pertains to caregivers year-round, but it is specifically important around the holidays. Prioritize your own health, eat well, and rest. Alternatively, arrange for either formal or informal respite care when someone else can watch Mom/Dad and allow you some time, find someone with a sympathetic ear who can just listen or buy yourself a present – you deserve it!

Handling the holidays also means caregivers must decide where to celebrate. Can Mom/Dad join you at a family member’s home or is she/he restricted to a long-term care centre? If an aging parent can come to your home all the better, but consider the following:

DECORATIONS: Excessive decorations may confuse a senior (as your home may seem foreign).

Clutter: Wrapping paper and ribbons strewn over the floor can become tripping hazards for an older person.

NUMBER OF GUESTS: Large crowds can complicate matters for a senior. More people in a room means more names to remember, more conversations to follow and more noise/activity to deal with. Keep your guest list to familiar faces only, rather than invite others who a senior may not know.

QUIET TIME: Provide Mom/Dad with some rest time in the guest bedroom. Alternatively, collect the excited kids and get them outside to go skating or tobogganing.

If a parent remains bed-bound, you can still celebrate the holidays at the care centre. Visit with them and share familiar photos of special times from the past. Recount your own memories and see what Mom/Dad can remember too (even if the facts are not quite correct). Wrap up a present to bring to Mom/Dad or simply gift your companionship. Decorate their room by placing cards on a bookshelf. Bring in a portable cd player (clear this with the care home staff first so to not disrupt the other residents) and listen to seasonal music. Ask young children to draw or paint a holiday picture to hang on the room wall.

Finally, traditions often play a major role in the holidays; however, doing things and celebrating the way you always have may not be possible. In this case, create new traditions that are both senior and family-friendly. Bundle up for a sleigh ride at Ft. Edmonton Park? View the lights at Candy Cane Lane? Take in a holiday movie at a theatre? Attend a holiday concert at the Winspear Centre? Go out for dinner at a nice restaurant? Work on a jigsaw puzzle together? And new traditions can remain personal … I have begun personally donating a frozen turkey to a local food bank and often volunteer as a delivery driver for Santa’s Anonymous.

The holidays can be a trying time; however, by handling them rather than them handling you, you can better enjoy them.

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Rick Lauber
Rick Lauber is the author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and an established local freelance writer with contributions in Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Christmas!, Canadian Living, The Caregiver Space and The Edmonton Journal, Edmontonians and The Edmonton Senior. For more info visit caregiversguideforcanadians.com

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