Caregiving is challenging at the best of times.  But special family holiday times, such as Christmas, can easily become dread-letter days instead of red-letter days. All because there are more shopping trips. More meals to prepare. More lights. More noise. More faces. More concerts. More confusion.  And all of these factors increase the difficulties you experience as a caregiver.

As a caregiver, you’re scheduling and driving to doctor’s appointments, looking after legal matters, doing household chores, looking after business and constantly helping and paying attention to your ailing loved one. You may be making sure they don’t wander. Or you may be wishing your shadow would give you a bit of space. Then there are those accidents and you’re the one who cleans up.  And that’s just what you do when it isn’t Christmas!

Added to that towering mountain of stress stacked onto your shoulders is that other family members often have no clue about what you’re doing … unless they’ve walked in your shoes for months at a time. That’s an issue because a caregiver who has no support from their family or from an outside source is a sure candidate for caregiver collapse.

Fortunately, there are things you can do if you’re a caregiver … or if you know a caregiver … to help reduce stress and increase joy this holiday season.

IF YOU KNOW A CAREGIVER, why don’t you give someone a bit of a lift by giving them a great gift this Christmas – the gift of you?  Offer to care for their parent or spouse so that the caregiver can go shopping or have time to bake.  Your gift of time is one of the most valuable gifts you can give.

Some other gift ideas for the caregiver are:

  • Spa appointments or hair appointments
  • Time away
  • Tickets to a concert
  • Respite week – pay for the senior to go into assisted living for a week
  • Music or books
  • A gift certificate from a favorite restaurant
  • A meal handmade for caregiver
  • An offer to perform mundane household duties

Anything that will allow the caregiver to have some time for themselves, to cook, or prepare themselves in the season would be helpful.  You could also let the caregiver know that you don’t expect them to serve you, that the house doesn’t need to be immaculate, and that you’re willing to pitch in.  Even arriving a few days early to help trim the tree, deck the halls, or do the Christmas baking can be a gift that gains gratitude.  Whatever you do, don’t criticize or joke about a dirty or dusty home or add to the guilt of the caregiver.  Pitch in.

But what IF YOU ARE A CAREGIVER? What can you do to reduce your stress?

If you’re looking after someone with dementia, reducing their stress goes a long way to reducing yours. For many persons with dementia, less lights and less noise translates into added ability to function at family dinners. The Mayo Clinic says, “Holiday gatherings often involve music and loud conversation. Yet for a person who has Alzheimer’s, a calm and quiet environment usually is best. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible and, as needed, provide your loved one a place to rest during family get-togethers.”

You’ll also want to look after yourself. Don’t be superwoman or superman. Ask for help. Ask another family member or friend to take over a task that you really hate, one that drains your energy and makes you dread the day.  Hire a private agency for a few hours to assist with care.  Setting up a regular visit can really help for when the time comes and you really need help.  Your loved one will have started to develop a relationship with their carer.

Reduce stress during the holidays by minimizing.  Don’t try and do too much. If you are tired, forget about being the turkey dinner champion. Instead, let people know that this year is a pot-luck and assign jobs to each family member who is attending. That leaves you with the turkey. If you skip the dressing, it’s about as much work as making a meatloaf.  Minimize is to do what you like best and throw away the rest.  Make a decision as to what’s really important. Sometimes you achieve more by doing less.

The bottom line is that doing these tips will help transform the holidays from a dread-letter day back into a red-letter day. And that’s something that everyone wants.