So, it’s coming upon that time of year, when we are all supposed to be happy, relaxed, and of good cheer.
There are a lot of wonderful things about the holidays, but there are also a lot of challenges. While most of us feel overwhelmed enough with our lives without the holidays thrown in, research has shown that people in the United States tend to find their stress increases during the holidays. The hustle and bustle of the season and our strong desire to make holidays the best we can for our families results in our not caring for ourselves. Instead, to cope we retreat to comfort eating, too much television watching, and other unhealthy behaviors.
Now think about being a caregiver during the holidays to someone with impaired thinking, like someone with a brain injury or dementia. We may fear that we will not be able to participate in the festivities as much as we might like because of caregiving duties. We may feel somewhat isolated and that other family members are not supportive and do not understand the caregiving situation. And of course we often fear that perhaps the excitement and change will be too stressful for our loved one, and as a result we may avoid activities and become further isolated.
One of our main fears is that all of the excitement and change in routine will be overwhelming for our loved one with thinking problems. They may appear to be enjoying it initially, but we are always on edge for the development of fatigue and agitation. To handle this issue, the first and most important step is just to be aware of your loved one’s energy levels and watch how they are responding. Some will be resilient and happy. Others may become irritable and withdrawn. For some with cognitive impairment it may be more enjoyable to sit with you and reminisce about holidays while focusing on quiet activities. Recall that long-term memory is often stronger for someone with dementia or other thinking problems, so doing things such as looking at photo albums of past holidays, a favorite stroll to look at Christmas lights, or unpacking holiday decorations can be enjoyable.
Plan for Fatigue
When attending events, plan for possible holiday fatigue. This may be as simple as taking short breaks in a quiet area of the house, away from the excitement. Along those same lines, for some it may be more appropriate to have a visit room, a quiet room where your loved one can sit and let others visit them for short periods in limited numbers. It can be a nice and intimate situation for the person with impairment. It will also be important to remember that it is OK to skip some activities and focus on the ones that are more meaningful to you. Remember the holidays are about enjoying the person you love, not just being their caregiver.
Remember to Care for Yourself
The last, and likely most important part of being a good caregiver during the holidays, is caring for yourself. If we do not care for ourselves, how can we appropriately be there for our loved one?
Keys here include maintaining awareness of your own fatigue level and taking breaks as needed. It is also important to be willing to adapt. This may include being willing to give up your past traditional roles, such as being host of the holiday party, or by cutting attendance at events short if your loved one, or you, have had enough.
Finally, you need to practice self-compassion. Caregivers by nature are compassionate. We are warm and caring towards others. We understand that survivors and others can fail or make mistakes, but we do not judge them harshly. Self-compassion means being willing to direct that compassion towards ourselves. This can be difficult as we tend to focus on perfection. We need to admit that as caregivers we can fail and make mistakes, and that this is simply part of life. When we accept that we are human and fallible, it will be easier for us to continue to have compassion towards ourselves and others and be successful as caregivers.
Just remember that you can handle this.
And if you have been looking for a book on caregiving and dementia…