Ideally, the holidays should be a “Season Of Joy”, but that is not always the case especially for family caregivers who are dealing with a loved one who has dementia and living in a secured memory care community or care home. For these families the holidays are often a stressful and emotional couple of months.
Many times the family caregiver feels pressure to do it all: visit frequently for hours at a time, help with shopping, pitch in with extra care when they can, have their own celebration at home, etc. Sometimes this feels like running on a hamster wheel! It's exhausting for caregivers and may make it impossible for them to get the rest and support they need. In many cases the family caregiver is the one who ends up getting sick and landing in the hospital.
One thing family caregivers need to keep in mind is the need to make time for themselves. I've listed some tips for caregivers to manage stress and hopefully bring some “Joy” back into their holidays:
Instead of visiting your loved one on the actual holiday, why not visit the day before or the day after? Most communities don't have their celebrations on the actual day and you can use this to your advantage. Trying to check someone out of memory care on Christmas day to bring them back home to a house full of relatives, commotion and noise is stressful for everyone, especially YOU, the caregiver.
Consider visiting with grandchildren or a small group of family members before the holiday or the day after. If you have a large family, break your visits into smaller groups. You may want to visit when there is a musical performance or special meal. Bring along some old photos to spark memories of holidays past. Because people with dementia have no short term memory, it's more familiar to talk about the past which your family member can usually recall in great detail.
Perhaps you want to put up a tabletop tree, menorah, nativity or other family decorations that you've had for many years. You might consider baking a pie, cookies or holiday treats from an old family recipe. You may have religious traditions that have been part of your holiday celebration for many years that you want to continue as part of your celebration. These rituals, traditions and memories are the “glue” that bond families together.
However you choose to celebrate, keep it simple and upbeat. Remember, visits don't have to be long...quality rather than quantity. Visit during the time of day when your loved one is going to be refreshed and ready to receive visitors. Don't visit at 4 in the afternoon when your family member is tired, hungry and may be experiencing “Sundowners”. Try not to disrupt your loved ones usual routine because that structure makes them feel secure. If you know that they are done with breakfast at 10, don't show up at 9. Visit at 10 and plan to stay for an hour or so. Talk about family memories and what the holidays mean to you. Bring up relatives and friends from the past who are living or not and talk about the good times you shared.
If you're feeling sad, depressed or overwhelmed, reach out to friends and family. The Alzheimer's Association has a helpline that provides support and information 24/7. Their number is 1.800.272.3900.
If you are a family caregiver taking care of someone at home, you may be even more stressed. If you feel you're ready to discuss placement options, reach out to me. I'm happy to listen and go over options with you. Remember, there is never a charge to families for my services.
To all those family caregivers out there, THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO! Thank you for advocating for your loved one and being there for your families. It's not an easy job, but so important!
Happy Holidays and all the best to you and your family in 2020!