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Home for the Holidays

Tips for dementia caregivers

By Pamela Bieri

The holidays can bring both great joy and great stress. It’s often a time when family members who live elsewhere come “home” – with expectations and extra demands associated with preparations for and celebrations of the holiday season.

Being a family caregiver of someone with dementia can bring an even greater level of stress. For loved ones with dementia, too many people all at once, loud music and conversations, and unfamiliar surroundings, can cause anxiety and heightened confusion. Try to avoid situations that place your loved one in stressful surroundings such as holiday shopping, large public events, even some family gatherings.

Caregivers taking on too many responsibilities because of pressure from others or one’s own expectations can easily cause “holiday burnout” for themselves and risk their loved one’s wellbeing.

According to the MedicineNet.com article Tips to Stay Sane During the Holidays, an overloaded social schedule combined with the demands of entertaining, gift shopping, decorating and other holidays traditions can evoke panic in even the most organized people.

Four key strategies for avoiding holiday burnout are adapted from this article:

Perspective. Try to keep the whole experience in its proper perspective by remembering that the holiday season represents only a very short portion of the year, which will soon be at its end. Holiday time does not necessarily need to be the most important or meaningful time of the year. Decide what is most significant to you and your loved one.

Preconceived ideas. Banish preconceived ideas about how the season should be. For those steeped in tradition, try to separate those you truly enjoy from those others expect you to do. Consider doing something different or more modified. Equally important, banish preconceived notions about how you should be feeling at this time of year.

Planning. Think before committing to any responsibility or social event. Don’t make any snap decisions but talk over and decide with your family members in advance about any commitments when combined with other pressures at holiday time. Ask for and accept help from family, friends and neighbors.

Permission. Give yourself permission to feel as you do and make the choices you need to make for yourself and your loved one’s wellbeing. Do not judge or compare your feelings or actions with others. You have the right to define the things that are important and decide ways to make the holidays meaningful and enjoyable.

It is not selfish to take care of your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver – it’s an important part of the job. Follow self-care practices for stress-reduction such as meditation, prayer, and yoga; seek and accept the support of others; get proper rest and nutrition; seek professional counseling when you need it; take time off without feeling guilty; identify and acknowledge your feelings; and participate in pleasant, nurturing activities like reading a good book or taking a warm bath.

Here’s to a healthy, happy, stress-less holiday season!

Sources: 1) “Tips to Stay Sane for the Holidays,” www.medicinenet.com; 2) Family Caregiver Alliance, “Taking Care of YOU: Self-care for Family Caregivers,” www.caregiver.org

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