Handling holiday stress and caregiving

By MARIA BOURNOVILLE

Information and assistance specialist

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County

FLORENCE, Wis. — Here come the holidays. Family gatherings, parties, teas, concerts, shopping, presents, decorations, greeting cards and the list goes on. Many people look forward to the hustle and bustle, reconnecting with family and friends and the snowy magic of the holiday season. Others, however, look to this season as a time of stress, chaos and sadness.

People who have experienced changes due to Alzheimer’s, stroke or other medical conditions may feel a great deal of loss during the holidays. Those who are caring for these loved ones may feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up holiday traditions while continuing to provide care. They may also be uncertain about gathering with friends and family for fear the changes in physical health, behavior and personality may make others uncomfortable.

If you are someone who is experiencing anxiety over the upcoming holiday season it is important to realize that these feelings are normal. Here are some ideas to help reduce stress this holiday.

— Adjust your expectations. You may not be able to do everything you’ve always done. Talk with your loved ones and choose a few traditions that are the most important. For those with dementia, traditions from the past are more likely to have meaning than newer ideas.

— Ask for help in meeting your goal. Involve other family members or friends in cooking, baking, decorating, shopping or sending cards. Not only does this reduce your stress, but it provides you and your loved one with good socialization. Write down tasks that need completing so you can be specific when people offer to help. And remember that some things can be left undone!

— Prepare family and friends before getting together. Let them know how their loved one has changed due to their disease or condition. Give them ideas on how best to communicate with them and what they can expect.

— Involve your loved one in the preparations. They may be able to assist in preparing food, wrapping gifts or decorating. Even just watching can help make them feel a part of the festivities and give you some time to spend together.

— Offer suggestions about gifts. Give friends and family ideas of useful gifts they can purchase for their loved one such as music cd’s, photo albums, comfortable clothing, videos or audio books. Don’t forget your own wishes, too! Gift certificates for dining, laundry or cleaning services are some ideas.

— Keep the needs of your loved one in mind. For those dealing with memory loss, remember that distant memory stays intact the longest and plan activities accordingly, avoiding new games or activities. Some victims of stroke have lost the ability to feed themselves and may find it uncomfortable to eat in front of guests. Perhaps an afternoon of looking at old slides or photos and reminiscing would be more appropriate than sharing a meal. Schedule gatherings during the day rather than in the evening since symptoms often are worse in the evening.

— Be good to yourself. Be aware that the holidays can be stressful and prioritize time for you to get away. A lunch out with friends, trip to the beauty parlor or movie theater, or going to a concert are simple things that can leave you feeling rejuvenated and better able to have a happy holiday.

Contact the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County for additional information and resources on caregiving. Call 715-528-4890, or stop by the office. The ADRC in the lower level of the Florence County Courthouse, 501 Lake Ave. Or go to the website at www.florencecountywi.com and click on Aging and Disability Resource Center.

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