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Family Caregiving Tips For Happier Holidays

If you’re reading this blog chances are you’re a professional or family caregiver. You know how difficult holidays can be. They impact both the caregiver and the one needing care differently but each usually feel added stress. Planning ways to ease the stress is as important as planning a holiday meal or gifts to exchange. This year, as 12% of Washington families prepare to celebrate with someone who has dementia or a serious illness, helping organizations are gearing up to guide families in ways to make the holidays easier and more inclusive for loved ones in their care.

Perhaps you’ve already heard advice:  Keep it simple.  Try to host or attend celebrations at the best time of day for your loved one. Celebrate the meanings of the holiday as much or more than the holiday trappings. Give a gift to yourself! Take time to absorb or express emotions.  Find and connect with support if you can. At the Alzheimer’s Association, family caregivers are reminded to start the holidays with a deep breath! The Family Caregiving Alliance suggests caregivers ask family and friends for gifts of respite time.

Deep breaths are important because holidays are easier for loved ones in our care if, in turn, we take care of holiday stress. Where there’s illness, holiday stress is known to create new symptoms or trigger old ones. For both caregiver and loved one holiday stress can activate emotional loss, sadness or guilt. It can ignite arguments and anger or launch depression. As caregivers, our stress impacts the people in our care. In particular, our emotions are directly reflected in people who experience dementia–an effect called emotional contagion.  We can help our loved ones with dementia and serious illness during the holiday by staying balanced and cheerful. Reduce stress and increase the chances of enjoying a healthful and happy holiday.

One on one time is a fabulous gift of inclusion. Loved ones with dementia or family members who are very ill may be overwhelmed, confused or tired by large family gatherings. In the crowd they may retreat. “Mother sat in the corner by herself all holiday,” a family member once confided to me about her parent in the later stages of dementia.  For more insight into the experience of Christmas through the lens of dementia read Lee-Fay Low’s informative and fictitious account compiled through years of work with dementia as Senior researcher in Psychiatry. “Tom doesn’t cope well when there’s a group of more than four people, especially when the conversation is going fast and people are excited…I know he finds it frustrating not fitting in. He gets tired after an hour and asks to go home,” Low writes. Exercise seasonal generosity by scheduling short and loving one on one family visits during the days before and after the holiday. Learn more about how to include loved ones in your holiday celebration for a more rewarding experience.

Does your Christmas list include √reducing stress  and √improving inclusion? Stress prevention and a plan for holiday inclusion is the best gift you can give to those you love and care for.  Happy Holidays readers! Peace and health in the New Year.

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