If you are reading this report, you are keenly aware that while there are rewards to being a family caregiver for an elderly loved one, there is also the associated stress and overwhelm that can happen as you attend the responsibilities of their changing needs as well as your own.
I wrote this report from my own experience juggling the added responsibilities and overwhelm the holidays brought while caring for my elderly parents. Over my eight-year caregiver journey, I learned that it was crucial to have a clear action plan that helped me manage the holidays more smoothly (and with greater cheer!) so that I could relax and enjoy the company of my parents - and the season - more fully.
Here are a few ideas I would like to share that I found that helped me tremendously when preparing for and coping with the holiday season:
Manage Your Expectations
It's normal to feel a range of emotions during the holidays when caring for an elderly loved one. If there have been changes in their physical and/or mental capacity, there can be an underlying sense of loss for long-standing family traditions as they may no longer be able to participate as before. Acknowledge that and be gentle with yourself - you are doing the best you can.
Consider shortening your "to do's" by either enlisting the help of other family members or friends.
Focus on creating new, simpler traditions - and memories - around what they can do. If attending a full length holiday pageant is not practical, consider a drive to look at outdoor lights and decorations.
Ask another family member to coordinate the dinner, or splurge and have it catered.
Anticipate their Needs and Preferences
Be mindful that sometimes, seniors with decreased cognition can get confused or agitated when they are out of their routine - which is often the case over the holiday season. With the increased social gatherings and community events, consider that your loved one may tire more easily and need to rest. Some simple planning and anticipation of their specific needs will help you both have a more enjoyable holiday season.
For events at home, consider having a designated quiet space for them to go to lie down, read or watch television until they've had an opportunity to rest and regroup.
If out at a public or community event, prepare a contingency plan that will include a means to distract or re-focus their attention. Also, be prepared for the possibility of having to leave earlier than expected.
Engage them in activities they're able to manage and enjoy. This has the added benefit of making them feel included and needed.
Your loved one's dietary needs are especially important to manage. The sugar in those tempting holiday treats have a stimulating and inflammatory effect, which may affect mood, sleep patterns and may even interfere with their medications.
Schedule a week's worth of their meals if they are unable to do so, but invite them to help out how they can. This helps to create the grocery list, and if there are special considerations such as the need for their food to be pureed, this should be factored into meal preparation.
For greater savings of time and effort, consider setting up a grocery delivery service to your and/or your loved ones' doorstep.
Get Help from Others
Sometimes it can be difficult to let others assist you - especially if you've been caregiving for a long time, but it's essential to let others help in the ways they can to prevent you from experiencing caregiver burnout. If you get sick, you are far less able to provide yourself or your loved one with the care you both need.
Recruit family members or friends who are able and willing to take over. Even if only for a few hours a week, it gives you a bit of a break and the opportunity to get to that exercise class (a great stress buster!), or even to get your holiday shopping done.
Tied in with managing your expectations, it's important to set up healthy boundaries so that others know how to help and in what capacity.
Asking for help is NOT a weakness! You cannot do it all by yourself, nor should you or anyone else expect that of you. Saying "No" is perfectly okay if you aren't willing or able.
Keeping Positive is a Choice
Based on the philosophy that you get more of what you think about, choose to focus on what your loved one can do instead of missing what they are no longer able to manage. An extra health benefit is that focusing on the positive has a calming effect on your body's stress response.
Think about starting new "traditions" that your loved one can participate in. If they're able, pull out the photo albums and record their memories as they go through them.
Celebrate with them the accomplishments they have achieved in their lifetime.
Appreciate having your loved one with you and tell them so. Too many people lose parents and spouses far too early.
Give Yourself a Gift
Be sure to slot in time for you! Self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. The quality of your own physical, mental and emotional health has a huge impact on the quality of care you can provide your loved one.
Get your numbers checked. Make an appointment for a full physical to see where your numbers are. An issue such as elevated blood pressure is symptomless, but is often one of the first symptoms of stress associated with caregiving.
Make an appointment to get a massage, a manicure or a fresh hair style for the season.
Making time to meet with friends and socialize - even just for a cup of coffee - is as just as important to your health as getting enough sleep and eating well.
Set up a regularly scheduled coffee or lunch date with a friend. Consider it as important as an appointment with your doctor or dentist (it is) and respect that time for yourself.
For long-distant family members or friends who may be sharing the holiday season with you and your loved one, consider sending out your holiday cards a bit earlier and include a brief note to give them a heads up as to what to expect, how to best interact with your loved one and to relay what help you'll need while they visit.
Acknowledge Your Accomplishments
Caregiving for an elderly loved one can be both stressful and rewarding. Remind yourself often that you are doing your best and by asking for help, you are giving yourself and your loved one the best gift possible!
Do you need help with a plan of action to ensure both you and your elderly loved one can better manage the holiday season?
Contact Nancy to inquire how Aging With Grace can provide you with the support you need throughout - and beyond - the holidays.
604-916-2291 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.AgingwithGrace.ca
Nancy Glover, a healthy aging advocate, mentors extraordinary women and men who have stepped into the challenging role of caring for their elderly spouse or parent by managing their well-being in the later stages of life. Blending first-hand expertise with practical step by step systems to support the needs, goals, and desires of the elderly spouse or parent, Nancy helps caregivers maneuver the complex and often challenging role with supportive advocacy and resources that equally focus on everyone’s well-being.