The Best Present is Your Presence–Navigating the Holiday Season as a Caregiver
By Kathryn Cherkas, MIPH
Program Manager, Friendship Center Montecito
The holiday season can be a joyous time of year where families get together and celebrate. However, as a caregiver, it can also be a stressful time, full of schedule changes, parties, and relatives coming and going. There are lots of resources out there on ‘self-care for the caregiver’ but we are pleased to share this list of recommendations given first-hand by caregivers on how to make it through the season as smoothly as possible.
Get a Care Buddy: If you are the primary caregiver with a limited personal network, now is the time to take your neighbor up on the offer to help with errands, or reach out to friends for extra support. This support could be in the form of a daily check-in text or you asking them to grab you a few items from the grocery store on their next trip. If you need help finding a care buddy, ask one of the Friendship Center program staff—we are here to support you!
Avoid Triggers: Has your loved one’s hearing or vision become more sensitive? If so, consider taking it easy on decorative light displays and blaring holiday music at home. In addition to sensory triggers, be mindful of any emotional triggers (politics, family dynamics, health discussions, etc.) that may upset or disturb them at this time.
Keep It Simple: With so much happening around the holidays, consider sticking to a simpler schedule at this already stressful time of year. People will understand if you can’t make their parties or events. Remember—it’s okay to say no.
Traditions Can Change: A lot of us have traditions surrounding the holidays, like midnight church service or filling the house with family and friends. It’s important to acknowledge that as situations change, it is okay for traditions to change. Try attending an earlier church service and maybe your relatives can stay at a nearby hotel instead this year. In the interest of keeping things simple, you may adjust existing traditions and even create some new ones this year! Also, when choosing gifts, consider other changes—though your loved one may have been an avid reader all throughout their life, maybe this year a different present, like an adult coloring book and pencils, would suit them better.
Prep Your Family: Though changes in our loved ones can be difficult to talk about, transparency with those around us can help prevent negative situations. Before your family shows up at the house and becomes frustrated over Grandpa no longer recognizing them, brief your family on what they should expect to see, and give them some pointers on ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for interacting with their loved one. As a caregiver recently told me, people want the opportunity to be nice and helpful, so give it to them!
Stop, Drop and Meditate! Or, at least take a few moments here and there to be alone and breathe. UCLA has wonderful guided mindfulness mediations that are as short as five minutes, all available free online: https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations. Give yourself the gift of peace!
Be Present: Ask your family, especially the younger generation, to put their phones down and engage. Once they’ve been prepped about their loved one’s condition, let them know that being present is the best present they could give. For you, try to savor these moments. Know that the hectic holidays will soon pass, and life will go back to “normal.” But also remember that these memories with family are ones you will hold on to for years to come, so do your best to be there for them.
As stressful as the holidays can be, we know that caregiving is a 365 day-per-year job, even if you aren’t physically caring for your loved one. We hope you, the caregiver, know that all of us at Friendship Center are here for you and can be a great resource, connecting you to whatever you need. Here are a few free resources to really help support caregivers to those with dementia:
Alz You Need, a personalized guide to discovering assistive products for caregiving at home: https://www.alzyouneed.com/
The Calm App, helpful to those who struggle with restful sleeps: https://www.calm.com/
UCLA’s guided meditations: https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations
Additionally, we hope you will enjoy our Christmas gift of a free day of respite on Saturday, December 14th from 10:00am-2:00pm at our Montecito site. We will offer care, activities, lunch and snacks to all who attend (capped at 20). Please RSVP to Kathryn or Kim at (805) 969-0859
And what would the season be without a party for YOU! Join us for our annual Caregiver Holiday Luncheon on Wednesday, December 11th from 11am-1pm. Enjoy music from the Montecito Union Mustangs Choir, a delicious lunch, Christmas gifts and games.
However you decide to spend your holidays this year, we hope it is a peaceful and delightful time for all. If there is anything we can do to help, never hesitate to ask. We are all family!