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.


During the holiday season, Seniors may feel lonely or burdensome if they cannot contribute to or fully participate in the festivities like they used to. Here are a few tips and ideas on how to make their holidays brighter, no matter what they celebrate!

  1. Sit with them while opening their holiday cards. Although the sentiment is very lovely, cards can carry bad news in an effort to keep the recipient caught up on the sender’s life. If possible, ask family members and friends to contribute a simple card, photograph or drawing to help keep the senior’s seasonal mail more upbeat. As well, help them send cards out of their own! Although receiving cards is an old sentiment, it’s still appreciated by those of all ages.


  1. Take your loved one on outings to get them involved in the community. Whether it be to the mall to people watch, a drive to see some lights, recreation centers, or a visit to a local Senior’s activity centre like Silver Threads to make them feel a part of the community like they used to be.


  1. If they celebrate, help them add some decorative touches to their home or their room. You can even decorate in stages, so they have something to look forward to! It’s a joy for them to pull out old decorations and reminisce about their meaning and recall the stories surrounding them.


  1. Bake! If they’re at home, take some time to bake their favourite Christmas treats and maybe even deliver some to the neighbours with them. If they’re in a home, bring them something that they enjoy and can share!


  1. Remember to remind them how important they are as a part of your life, your families and friends. The most important thing you can do with a Senior to make them feel loved and included this season is to simply spend time with them.

Sundowning is a term used to describe a time of day that seniors with Dementia may experience mood changes.  This is more prevalent with a time change.  With the shorter days, and the fading light, symptoms may prevail.  During the longer days in Spring and Summer managing symptoms of sundowning and working with a senior can be much easier.  You are able to do more activities that extend into the early evening.

A person who is sundowning may manifest anxiety, appear disoriented or confused.  As a result, they may act out and yell, or pace, and be restless.

As a family caregiver, you may feel tired and frustrated at the end of your day.  Your loved one will pick up on your frustration or agitation which can exacerbate their reactions to you.  Managing your emotions is key for the person with Dementia.  Step away for a moment to regroup and return with a smile.   Keep track of small things that might trigger reactions in your loved one. The family caregiver would do well to seek a companion for respite at that time of day to relieve them.


A caregiver must be experienced in being able to de-escalate the senior’s increasing demands and disorientation.  Being able to redirect with kindness is a must.  Utilize humour or try to organize a walk, drive or activity around this time of the day to take their mind off of their symptoms.


Try these tips to assist with managing Sundowning:

  1. Try to arrange your day with the same schedule each day.  Routine is key for the senior with dementia.  When the time changes, altering your routine slightly to match the fading light could be helpful.
  2. Journal behaviours and reactions, stress signals and agitation. Once you know their triggers, it will be easier to avoid situations that promote agitation and confusion.
  3. Take that time of the day to get out, see if distractions are helpful.  Although you may be tired, this is a good time to have a caregiver come in to assist you so you can get out.
  4. Eating and drinking habits are also very useful to manage.  Simply reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, this will help with falling asleep.  Eat your heavier meal at mid-day and have a lighter meal in the early evening.
  5. Stay calm and reassure them to stay calm.  Lots of reassurance can help to put them at ease.  Don’t use too many words, repeat a short mantra of ‘everything is ok – we are just fine’ and smile.
  6. Keep things calm in the evening and perform most of your busy activities during the day.  Play quiet music or engage in a puzzle.  Do not make the environment too busy or noisy as processing is difficult for a senior with Dementia.
  7. If seniors are confused once they have gone to bed, they may start to wander at night.  Utilize a motion detector light outside their door and use a baby monitor to listen for when they are up and around.

You are the reflection for your loved one with Dementia.  We have a lot of experience working with seniors with Dementia, and our advice is to smile no matter what you need to convey as a smile will put your senior at ease.  Plan well, give short instructions to follow, smile and carry on.


Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) not only affects seniors with Dementia.  Many of us experience a change in mood around the ebb and flow of time changes and the shorter days.  Many people experience great benefits from light therapy lamps.  If this is an option for your senior, do discuss this with your doctor.


Written by Johanna Booy – Care & Company Ltd.