The hustle and bustle of the holidays can leave anyone more than a little frazzled. This is particularly true for the 34 million Americans who act as a caregiver for an aging loved one. For these individuals, coming up with a plan to manage caregiving-oriented holiday stress is key to having a joyful holiday season. Add in a global pandemic, and it seems hard to win whatever you choose to do.
What can caregivers do to manage the expectations of the holidays?
Too often, the joy of the holidays can fade into the stress of the season—but it doesn’t have to be this way. So how can people who are caring for a loved one keep calm under pressure? The simple answer is to be kind to yourself. With the combined stresses of the holidays and the pandemic on your shoulders, it’s easier to have a shorter fuse.
Remember, feeling overwhelmed is completely normal — particularly when you’re balancing caregiving with work and family responsibilities and trying to create the “perfect” holiday. Give yourself permission to feel this feeling, but also look for ways to address it.
By making time to exercise, eating well and getting the right amount of sleep, your stress levels will decrease and you’ll be better suited to give your attention to your loved one. Both stress and kindness are contagious, so help yourself spread the latter.
What should caregivers keep in mind when visiting their loved ones this holiday season?
The holidays may be the first time you’re seeing a loved one since COVID-19 began and your family member could be experiencing some telling signs of isolation. Many seniors’ daily routines were upset during quarantine, which may have had serious impacts on their physical and emotional health especially if they are living at home alone. You may see some general weakness due to a loved one’s lack of moving or even learn of a recent fall you didn’t know about previously. You could also notice some emotional consequences of isolation including depression, lack of grooming, spoiled food in the fridge, or an unkempt house. It’s important to have conversations about these warning signs and take steps to find solutions that address these new challenges.
For example, your mom may have always been the cook in the family, but now she can’t take the lead in the kitchen. You might feel okay picking up where she left off or subbing in another solution like a food delivery service, but first, try to imagine what that feels like from her perspective. Ask yourself what she is still able to do, and find a way for her to stay involved. Whether it’s giving her an easier recipe to handle or assigning her a supervisory role, these gestures will go a long way.
How can we continue to make the holidays special?
In-person gatherings may not be in the cards for your family this year, but that doesn’t mean family traditions need to go by the wayside. The key is to make these moments special while minimizing risk. You shouldn’t try to recreate the entire celebration, but instead find specific moments that you can share with your loved one virtually. Perhaps you could make a recipe together, watch the grandkids open gifts or even read a favorite story together.
If you are visiting your loved ones this holiday season, remember that they are part of a vulnerable population and take the proper precautions to celebrate safely. In addition to following all local guidelines, remember the simple rules of wearing a mask, washing your hands and distancing as much as possible.
How do we navigate difficult conversations about elder care needs?
The holidays are often a time when conversations are had about the future of your aging loved one. This may come after seeing your mom moving more slowly than she used to or noticing your dad is becoming more forgetful. It is also a time when you’re surrounded by siblings and family members who may be noticing similar signs.
While the holidays can be the right time to have these conversations, it's important to remember not to force them. If your aging family member tends to feel pressure when everyone is around, find a time after the holidays when you can bring up his or her future in a more private setting. These are challenging conversations and should always be approached gently and with kindness.
It’s also important to remember that these conversations aren’t going to be resolved in one day. A good way to start is to find a way to frame the conversation in a manner that doesn’t make it so obvious you’re worried about your loved one. For example, “I saw something on TV about a service that helps with groceries and it made me think about how that could free up your time.” Or a white lie example, “One of my friend’s parents had a fall and it made me worry about you a little bit.” These simple conversation starters can start the wheels turning with your loved one.
Oftentimes the most difficult topics are among the most essential. Don’t be afraid to broach the tough topics of creating a loved one’s will, naming a power of attorney and clarifying his or her end-of-life preferences.
Seniors who have accomplished so much in their long lives often find that it’s hard to recognize any loss of ability. There will be times that you don’t agree with a decision an aging family member may make, but you have to remember it’s their decision. Be patient, be kind and work to resolve the issue.
If your loved one also suffers from memory loss, it’s even more important to put yourself in his or her shoes during these conversations. It has to be difficult to suddenly feel less “sharp” than you once were or to have trouble putting a face to a name. There’s fear there and it might manifest itself in anger or resistance but in reality, it’s much more complex. It’s important to remember your relationship with your aging loved one is more important than anything else, even if that means backing off on your gut feelings or reactions.
Once your loved one acknowledges he or she needs additional care, what are the next steps?
There are so many choices when it comes to finding care for an aging relative that the terminology and available options can feel overwhelming. A good place to start is by researching different types of care options online, asking friends or peers, and consulting your relative’s medical team. Every county has an Aging Resource Center (ADRC) so if your loved one wants to stay in your area, that’s a great place to seek help as well. The most important consideration is understanding the type of care that is needed for your loved one at the moment. Ask yourself and your loved one, what’s the right fit for right now?
The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but for those acting as the primary caregiver to a loved one, it can also be a stress-filled season. As you plan for what may be a different kind of holiday this year, be kind to yourself and remember that a little preparation goes a long way.
To learn more about caring for a senior family member during the holidays, view this webinar which offers helpful tips and solutions for family caregivers. If senior living is among the options you’re considering for an aging loved one, Elmcroft can help. Learn more about our independent living, assisted living and memory care communities.