When you're caring for a family member, the holidays can change dramatically from what they once were. Though initially difficult and emotional, It helps to change your mindset to plan “new” holiday traditions that will help make the holidays happier, less stressful, and preserve family traditions.
Whether you’re going to your aging loved onesí house or they are coming to yours, the holidays are a wonderful opportunity to open the lines of communication and earn more about your family history.
❖ When the group is gathered (at dinner, for example), encourage each person, even the youngest child and non-family members to share their favorite holiday memories. How did they celebrate the holidays as children? What was their favorite gift and why? What was their favorite holiday memory? What was their favorite holiday food?
❖ Take advantage of any opportunity that arises, such as while preparing dinner or wrapping presents. While these stories are fun and informative for the whole family to hear, don’t force a group activity.
❖ Slow down the day. Ask that only one person (including the children) opens a present at a time. It gives everyone the pleasure of seeing the gifts being opened and reduces the activity level which makes the atmosphere feel more relaxed.
❖If your loved one is coming to your home, keep in mind that too much noise, activity, and hustle and bustle can be overwhelming for the elderly. Set aside a “quiet place” where anyone can go to get away from the ctivity. (But make sure that it isn’t a place that will displace others, such as the room with the television.)
❖ Don’t over schedule the day. “Sharing” flows best during the down time.
❖ Prepare as much as you can in advance so you have longer periods of “calm” time.
❖ Put in those safety aids you’ve been thinking about (such as grab bars in the
bathroom and/or lighting in dark hallways and stairs).
If your loved one is coming to your home from an assisted living community or nursing home, in addition to the above, also:
❖ Confirm holiday meal times with the staff so that you can pick up your loved one before the meal has started and return them in time for the evening meal.
❖ Make sure you have all meds and (extra) supplies your loved one will need.
❖ The elderly get cold more easily so suggest they dress in layers and bring an extra sweater. You may also want to have an extra sweater or blanket on hand at your house.
❖ If your loved one has dementia, it’s important to make the atmosphere as relaxed as possible – too much excitement can make them anxious and agitated.
❖ Talk with your other guests – especially siblings about their needs and expectations and negotiate – in advance – any differences around what’s best for your loved one.
❖ Talk with your kids about your loved one’s situation (for example, they may not remember them or may have physical limitations or issues)and coach them on how to handle it.
❖ If your loved one has an aide, decide in advance whether s/he will be needed for the day and make appropriate arrangements.
❖ Allow family and friends to help you. If you don’t get any offers of help, ask for it. Divide up the caregiving duties, clarify the scope of each, and ask each person which one they’d like to take.
If you’re visiting your loved one at the assisted living community or nursing home:
❖ Unless you’re planning to eat with them (and made arrangements in advance),
confirm holiday meal times so your visit doesn’t conflict.
❖ If possible, arrive an hour or two before mealtime so you have an opportune
time to leave.
❖ Try to coordinate schedules if other family members who will also be visiting. You may want to plan the visits at different times so that your loved one has company throughout the day.
❖ If you visit all at once, keep the atmosphere as calm as possible. Sitting literally lowers the energy level so visit in a location with enough chairs for everyone.
❖ If you bring children, talk with them in advance and coach them on appropriate behavior. Depending on your loved one’s condition, you may decide not to bring very young children.
❖ If your loved one hasn’t gotten gifts for the visiting children, you may want to bring a present “from” your loved one for each of the children that they can play with while there.
❖ Whether the children come or not, encourage them to make cards and gifts that can be hung or placed in the room.