Michele's Blog

Holidays and the Family Caregiver

By Michele Scott


The holidays are here, and opportunity is knocking. The November, December holiday season is the perfect time to extend a helping hand to a family caregiver. Instead of arriving the day of or leaving the day after, arrive early and give the primary caregiver a much needed break. Out of area relatives often fail to realize the sacrifices a caregiver makes. The holiday season is just as important to them as it is to you. They want to do some shopping, visit a spa or salon, attend a company party, prepare a special meal or spend quality time with family. Keeping a parent or grandparent in their home is what you all agreed on, however responsibility for bathing, clothing, housekeeping, meal preparation, laundry, shopping and transportation has fallen on one person. This person manages the psychological and physiological health and wellbeing of the aging loved one, often putting them before job, children and spouse. If dementia, Alzheimer’s or depression are diagnosed the stress placed on the caregiver is even greater.

If arriving early or remaining after the big day is impossible, offer financial assistance. Securing respite or in-home care might create a financial hardship. Instead of shopping for presents, as a family give money. Lightening the burden for a caregiver is the perfect way to show that you care. Tell them how much they are appreciated and show empathy for the situation the family has placed them in. Holidays for seniors and the elderly can spur bouts of anxiety, anti-social behavior and depression. Let the caregiver know they are not responsible for the temperaments or mood of the elderly they are caring for.

When a senior is experiencing the loss of a loved one, facing a serious illness, or living through chronic pain, exposing them to large family gatherings, raucous environments, or argumentative conversation can ruin everyone’s day. Even a stressed, tired caregiver can find themselves wishing everyone would just go away. Empathy is the key word in any caregiver situation. The list of do’s and don’ts is a long one with “don’t ask the caregiver a long list of medical questions at the dinner table or force a caregiver to repeat the same information again and again. Gather the family in a quiet place and discuss the senior in a calm and supportive way. The caregiver knows you have questions and seeing mom or dad, grandma or grandpa only once or twice a year makes physical and mental changes more apparent. Let the caregiver take the lead on when and where to update family members.

Lastly know what you are walking into and if children are involved what they will be facing. If the grandparents they love dearly are suffering from mental or behavioral disorders, prepare them. If their favorite aunt or uncle is caregiver and this task has changed them – which it will do – prepare them. And remember, there are things neither the caregiver, immediate family or extended family can control. Holidays don’t always bring out the best in people – particularly the sick, stressed or depressed. Preparation, empathy, support and caring, coupled with the warmth and love the holidays bring make it possible for all involved to have a safe, joyous holiday season.