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While everyone else is enjoying the hustle and bustle and the joy of the holiday season, there are many caregivers out there who just want the whole thing over with. Caregiving creates a level of stress unmatched by most endeavors. Add to that the extra stress of family gatherings, gift buying, cooking, and other obligations and it is almost unbearable. How can caregivers better cope with this stress on top of stress?

As a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, it is important to try to maintain a sense of familiarity for the one we are caring for. Confusion and unfamiliar changes can be challenging to anyone so imagine then how too much change can affect one with memory problems.

The key is to pace yourself, as well as to help your loved one do the same, so that neither of you will feel completely drained, depressed or overwhelmed, especially during such a special time of year.

During the holidays it is important for caregivers to seek a balance, between caring for someone else and caring for oneself; between celebrating good memories of past holidays while not dwelling on what might have been lost.

Here are some tools to decrease stress and enjoy the season as a caregiver:

 

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Gradually introduce decorations, lights, music etc:  Anam’s Stu Gaines designed and implemented a study in the early 1990’s in conjunction with university of Wisconsin.  The published study demonstrated that by introducing decorations slowly over a 2 – 3 week period, into a home or facility, there were little or no behavioral changes with the residents.  However instantaneous changes elicited a dramatic spike in the number and severity of challenging behaviors in people with dementia.  The same applies to the end of the holidays, slowly remove the decorations etc. over a period of a few weeks.

Another good idea is to try to maintain the same furniture floor pattern. For someone who may be a little confused at times, moving the furniture around may totally throw them off and lead to more confusion and agitation.

 

Simplify:  With the large number of extra tasks involved in your traditional holiday it may make sense to simplify by reducing or eliminating some of your usual rituals, recipes, events etc.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Would the holidays be the same without it?

Do I do it out of habit, tradition, free choice, or obligation?

Is it a one person job, or can I ask someone to share it?

Can someone else do it?

Do I like doing it?

 

As much as possible keep your loved one on their regular routine: Try to schedule the major activities for the day early in the day. We know that as the day wears on we all tend to become tired under normal conditions. For someone who is struggling to find their place in an already confusing world, the stress and agitation increases as the day goes on. Saving a time of sitting and quietly visiting towards the end of the day would benefit all concerned. Talking of past holiday customs and recipes may be enjoyable for your loved one, if they have long term memory recall.

If your loved one becomes agitated, try to remove them to a quiet area of the house either with yourself or someone they trust.

Prior to the onset of any behavioral problems during a holiday gathering, prepare distractions such as a family album to draw the person’s attention away from their problem.

 

Include your loved one in some holiday preparations:  Focus on their remaining strengths, and let them use their own capabilities to help with small tasks. It makes them feel that they are being useful while at the same time helps to occupy them so you are also able to get on with other preparations. Have them do a repetitive task, such as folding napkins, peeling potatoes, mixing cake batter that will help keep them calm.

Try not to schedule too many social events, one right after another:  It’s better to miss out on a few holiday events than to end up with yourself or a loved getting too exhausted, and don’t feel guilty about telling someone “no” when asked to participate in yet another holiday function.

 

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Guests:

If possible limit the number of guests so that the amount of confusion is lessened. Keep the numbers small, for example 10 or 12 persons in a home can cause agitation and anxiety.  Keep in mind that the more noise that is present; the more confusion will be evident. Large crowds will be a problem

Make guests aware ahead of time of the emotional state of the one you are caring for. You could even send them material to read giving them an overview of the disease if they are unaware of what it entails. This would also be an excellent opportunity to prepare friends and family for the changes they might see in your loved one, especially if they have not been to visit in some time.

With guests in and out of the house, be sure that someone is aware at all times of where your loved one with dementia is. If they tend to wander there is a chance that they may wander off while everyone thinks that everyone else is watching.

Ask guests to bring a dish.  A potluck is a great idea; you can even assign specific dishes to ensure that a complete dinner is provided.

 

Self-Care

Try to keep up on your regular exercise routine, or start one, during the holidays. Walking five times a week is a great way to stay in shape. There is also something about pounding the pavement that helps release frustrations and clears your head.

Do some laughing.  There is nothing that cuts through stress more than humor.  Rent a good comedy, have family and friends reminisce over humorous events over the years.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and to delegate holiday tasks among family and friends. Be careful about spreading yourself too thin by volunteering to help others. It’s okay to say no, and when you do, make it short and simple, and don’t apologize;

Finally, be sure to fit some time in for yourself this holiday season. If you have the extra people there, then use them to your advantage. Take a few minutes sometime during the day to pamper yourself! Remember this is your holiday too, and do not be afraid to let family know that a little quiet time for yourself could be a gift beyond measure.