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5 tips to get through the holiday season as a dementia caregiver

Uncategorized Nov 22, 2020

Careblazer, welcome back.


We are in the midst of the holiday season and I want to share with you some of my thoughts to help make this season as calm and enjoyable while caring for your loved one with dementia. 

If you would rather watch the video on this topic, click here

Caring for someone with dementia around the holidays doesn’t have to mean that you give up everything you once enjoyed about the holidays, or that you have to dread the holidays. But it does likely mean that you will have to adjust your expectations and do some planning to help meet the needs of both you and your loved one. 


If you haven’t already, be sure to download the Careblazer survival guide. It’s filled with helpful information to get you through the holiday season with the least amount of stress possible. Download it here.


Alright, here are 5 tips to help you through this holiday season.

First, Adjust and adapt traditions. 


So much pain around the holidays can come from no longer being able to do some of the traditions you’ve done for many years. Your loved one may no longer be able to leave the house to to to the Christmas play or you may not be able to host the Thanksgiving dinner because your dining room area has turned into the place where your loved one’s hospital bed stays. 


Instead of focusing on past traditions, you may no longer be able to do, see if you can adjust the tradition to meet your loved one's needs or perhaps come up with an entirely new tradition altogether. 


So if you and your LOWD would always go holiday shopping together but she no longer has the ability to leave the home, perhaps you flip through catalogs or surf online from the comfort of your home in comfy pajamas. It’s a similar activity, done in a different way, with the same end goal. 


If you always host the holiday dinner but aren’t in the position to do so any longer, perhaps another family member hosts the dinner. Or you host the dinner and instead of preparing everything, everyone brings a dish.  

Don’t let the fact that things are different stop you from exploring new memories and traditions. 

Building new memories/traditions in ways that fit your LOWD’s abilities are much more likely to have positive outcomes than trying to keep and force older traditions that are too difficult for your loved one or for you given all your added responsibilities. 


Adjust activities with dementia (and yourself)  in mind

Knowing what you know about your loved one with dementia, try to plan activities, outings, and events taking into consideration your loved one’s usual schedule and taking into account your level of fatigue and stress. 


For example, If your loved one typically naps in the afternoon, you may want to avoid scheduling an event at that time. If your loved one gets irritable in the evenings, you may want to make sure your events are scheduled earlier in the day. It may take some flexibility and changes to the way you've normally done things but it doesn’t mean those things can’t be done anymore, it may just be during different times. Try to keep things as routine as possible for your loved one with dementia to reduce changes of increased agitation or anxiety.


Also, make sure you’re checking in with yourself regarding your own stress levels. Your family may want to schedule an activity that even your loved one can participate in, but given the added demands of the holidays while caregiving, you may want to consider how YOu will feel...not just your loved one. It might be okay to skip out on an activity or two simply to rest and unwind. 

Do less without the guilt

It can feel pretty overwhelming for anyone to try to keep up with all the holiday expectations, let alone if you are caring for a loved one with dementia. Don’t get caught up in what you’ve done in the past or what people are doing around you. Don’t compare this holiday season as a caregiver to a holiday season without caregiving demands. 


Focus on doing what is best for you and your loved one. If that means that you don’t send out Christmas cards this year, or you don’t hang up lights, or you bring a store-bought pie to the gathering rather than your usual homemade pie, that is completely okay. I honor you for staying true to yourself and taking into consideration your own well being. 

Be open with others

Let people know about your situation. If you have to decline an invitation, let them know about your situation. They will understand. If you really want to attend an event but are not sure if your loved one will do okay, talk to the host, see if there is a quiet area for your loved one. Let them know about any special considerations, foods, or utensils that may need to be considered. You can’t expect everyone to understand what you need, but if you just let people know ahead of time, you may be surprised with the generosity, considerations, and changes they can make for you and your loved one. If you are going over to a friend or family member’s house, make sure they are aware of your loved one’s situation and see if they have a quiet room or area you and your loved one can escape to if your loved one needs a break.

Accept Help/Gifts when offered

Around this time of year, people may ask you what you would like as a gift. If this happens, please do not say anything. Take this opportunity to give them ideas of things that will actually be useful for you down the road. Things like a gift certificate to a restaurant for take out, a certificate for a house cleaning, a few hours of their time so you can get a haircut or go for a walk,  yard service, etc. 


The same goes for gift ideas for your loved one. To avoid your loved one getting something they may not be able to use, let your friends/family who is asking know that your loved one may enjoy some velcro shoes, easy to take on/off socks, a medical ID bracelet, music from your loved one’s era, smelling lotions, photo albums filled with past photos, a visit with their pet. 

Keep in mind the true spirit of this season. It has much less to do with the lights and food and gifts and much more to do with the love, kindness, and opportunity to share that with the people you love. When you look back on this time as a Careblazer for your loved one, is it more important that you are able to use the fine china that you’ve used for holidays the last few decades, or is it more important that you were able to build some positive memories with your loved ones, even if it means paper plates. So much of the pressure of the season comes from our own thinking and internal pressure on how you wish things could be or should be. Perhaps one of the blessings of this situation is that you get to strip away all of the nice but unnecessary outward things and focus more on the relationships, memories, joy, and connection with others. Imagine how much more you can enjoy the season with this new approach. A tree, decorations, place settings, the food...none of that makes or breaks the season. Your intent, your mindset, your desire to enjoy the season for what it is, a time for reflection, connection, and love. That’s what really matters and sometimes it takes unfortunate life circumstances to bring that back in our awareness. 


Wherever you are on your caregiving journey and wherever you may be this holiday season, I send each and every one of you love. I hope you are able to make some lovely new memories. 


I’ll be back next week. Bye.


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