Holiday Tips for Family Caregivers

Family at Thanksgiving
December 6th, 2017

The holidays are all about family. But planning the holidays with an aging parent can feel anything but merry and bright. Check out these tips for planning a safe and special holiday for your older relations.

Consider Their Needs & Abilities

As caregivers, how we celebrate the holidays with our seniors depends a lot on the cognitive and physical abilities of our aging parents and other older relations.

“It’s important to be constantly assessing where your elder stands — both physically and mentally — so you can plan in what ways to involve them in your holiday celebration,” advises Carol Bradley Bursack, author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.

For instance, if your parent is physically and mentally able, bring them to your home for at least part of your family’s holiday celebration. But look for signs s/he is becoming overwhelmed, especially in the case of Alzheimer’s or dementia patients.

“My father developed dementia and quickly became overwhelmed in a different environment,” says Bursack. “In cases like his, you can actually assign someone to watch over the elder and take them into a quiet room or home if necessary.”

If your holiday plans involve travel, she suggests making sure your elder is truly up to the trip physically and emotionally. Crowded airports and unfamiliar surroundings can be disorienting and cause physical strain even if you order wheelchair transportation. Learn more about flying with an aging parent.

If your older relations can’t be with you during the holidays, they don’t have to be alone. Bursack suggests relying on technology like Skype or FaceTime to create together time. “And, of course, there are all kinds of ways to share pictures and videos, which is a great way to make someone feel included,” she adds

Memories Make the Holiday

Memories are a central part of holidays. Whether your older relatives are coming to your home or you’re bringing the holiday to them, create an atmosphere that focuses on memories of Christmases past even as you create new memories to celebrate.

“Prior to the holiday, I helped my loved ones decorate their rooms with objects that were special to them — like ornaments from our childhood,” says Bursack. “I would take them out of the boxes and show them each one. Then we would decorate together, deciding where to put these special pieces. I tried to turn it into a real ritual.”

Other ways to rekindle warm memories of holidays past is to go through photo albums, digital or otherwise, sing or play favorite holiday music, and provide sensory stimulation via lotions or soaps that smell of the holidays.

“It’s all about finding the right balance, making sure your elders are safe, while at the same time making the holidays a time of celebration.”

Avoiding Isolation and Loneliness

Feeling lonely and abandoned during the winter months is common when seniors are isolated from their families and can be exacerbated by Seasonal Affective Disorder. In addition to you and your kids making video calls and texting photos, schedule other family members to check in with elders, too. Arrange for in-person visits by friends or professional caregivers. In many communities, church groups or other service agencies provide free or low-cost visitations even during the holidays. Work with a local restaurant or charity to bring holiday meals in for additional holiday cheer.

Planning for the holidays and seniors doesn’t have to be a Herculean effort. Use these holiday tips for family caregivers to make sure everyone enjoys the season.