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Avoiding Caregiver “Holidaze” during the Holidays
Wednesday, December 05, 2012

by Sheila Moore, MSG, LCSW                  

Director, Senior Center Services, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles

Sheila Moore has been working with caregivers for over 25 years.  She is a community educator, active support group leader and advocate for those who care for family members with memory loss or those who live with chronic health conditions.

Caregivers face daily stressors while caring for a family member with memory loss.   Add on holiday expectations and increased holiday burden, and these stressors can easily escalate and become overwhelming, leading to what I call the “perfect storm” for caregivers – “Holidaze”. 

“Holidaze”: Feelings of fatigue, anger, resentment, disconnect, sadness and opportunities lost. 

Triggers to Watch Out For

  • Your own expectations of what the holiday must include
  • What has been important to your family member in the past
  • The arrival of out-of-town or less-involved family
  • Keeping meaningful traditions

Each of these triggers can tip the scale on stress levels and create a sense of unmanageability and overwhelm.  What to do?

Making Space for Yourself

During the holidays, the paradox of the caregiving experience is never more true.  We know that you spend much of your energy making sure the family member you care for is comfortable, well cared for and safe.  On the other hand, if you are able to find comfort, feel at ease, find meaning and reduce your stress, this will naturally translate into a better experience for your family member.  While caregivers generally put themselves last on the daily “to do” list, we invite you to make space for yourself and create a holiday experience that has meaning.

Making the holiday meaningful for you will require some effort in planning.  The effort in mapping out what is important for you – for your own holiday experience – will benefit both you and the person you care for.

Tips to Get Through the Holidays

  • Identify what gives the holidays meaning for you
  • Get the help of family or friends
  • Educate out of town family about changes in the person you care for
  • Develop plans: Plan A, Plan B and Plan C
  • Involve the person you care for in the holiday, but be clear to yourself (and others) about the goal or outcome

Take time for yourself this holiday season.  Make room for things that are important to you.  It is okay to move yourself up on the “to do” list and find ways to make this time of year meaningful to you and in turn, meaningful to the one you care for.

And see below for MORE TIPS.

 

Tips for the Holidays When Caregiving for a Family Member with Memory Loss
Monday, December 03, 2012

by Sheila Moore, MSG, LCSW

Director, Senior Center Services, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles

Sheila Moore has been working with caregivers for over 25 years.  She is a community educator, active support group leader and advocate for those who care for family members with memory loss or those who live with chronic health conditions.

Identify what gives the holidays meaning for you

Reflecting on the holiday’s meaning is important.  What about the holiday is most meaningful to you?  Is it the family gathering?  Is it a particular spiritual practice?  It might be the quality time with family and friends and not the formality of a meal that holds meaning.  It might be the connection to memories that makes it special.  

Breaking down the holiday and identifying what is really important to you will help you prioritize and make room for what is truly meaningful for you during the holiday season.

Get the help of family or friends

Every day can be a challenge without help, and with the added stress of the holidays, going it alone can be nearly impossible.  Reach out for help to ease the burden. 

When asking for help, be as specific as possible. “I could use help from 2 pm – 4 pm on Tuesday while I go shopping.  You can sit with my mother and watch her favorite talk show with her. I will be available by cell for any questions.”  Providing specifics and structure for your helpers takes the guess work out of helping and relieves potential apprehension that may keep them from following through.

Educate out of town family about changes in the person you care for

Family gatherings can be stressful.  For many, it is a time to see the growth of children, mark the changes in our own lives and, sometimes painfully, see the changes in the person you care for.  Preparing and educating out of town family or family who are not involved consistently about these changes can be helpful for everyone.

  • Let family know that there has been a change prior to the visit.   This can reduce on-the-spot synthesis of new information and needed adjustment.
  • Educating out of towners can reduce unnecessary stress and might stop misdirected expressions of loss, guilt and/or fear.
  • A telephone call or an email with an explanation of some of the changes you see will help the whole family be present for the holidays without the added complication of surprises.

Develop plans: Plan A, Plan B and Plan C

It is important to think about options to get through potentially challenging holiday situations.  For example, if the person you care for gets agitated, restless, hard to redirect or verbally aggressive, you might consider:

  • Plan A:  Identifying a “quiet room” where they can be away from the stimulation of the gathering and alone with you or a willing and pre-assigned family member; and/or
  • Plan B:  Bringing a paid caregiver along to shadow your family member and take them on a walk if festivities get overwhelming; or
  • Plan C:  Identify another family member or paid caregiver to take your loved one home if things get too much. 

Having a Plan A, Plan B and/or Plan C serves as a reminder that things have changed for the person you care for and their comfort might look different.  Having a set of plans allows you to enjoy what you might have identified as a “meaningful” part of the holiday for you while the person you care for engages with others and is comfortable.

Involve the person you care for in the holiday, but be clear to yourself (and others) about the goal or outcome

Involving the person with cognitive changes in simple ways is a great way to engage your loved one in holiday activities.  Setting the table should be less about setting the table perfectly and more about involving them in the experience.  Adjust the task to what they can do comfortably.  Involving them in the warm exchange of family is the real experience.

For example, folding napkins, even paper, and listening to younger family members banter and the retelling of their own memories will be more important than the concrete help others could easily provide.

Be kind to yourself.   Identify what is most important this holiday season and make it meaningful for you.  You deserve it.

 

 

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