From a caregivers Perspective
05. 02. 14

Holiday time is family time. During these times, caring for elderly family members can become overwhelming for the caregiver. When a family member has a cognitive disorder, this may be an especially difficult time.

While we all begin to celebrate the upcoming holidays getting into the holiday spirit is part and parcel of our daily routine. However, the elderly, especially those with memory problems, often feel confused and have little interest in the holidays. The holidays often present issues not addressed by family such as change in routine. This is especially true for those who suffer from memory loss, as they are very tied to routine. Family members who do not live or interact with their loved one on a regular basis may be unfamiliar with the day-to-day needs of someone with confusion and memory deficits.

As a nurse and also as the primary caregiver for my 89 year old mother who resides with me, I am in a unique and at times, dubious position of understanding both the needs of the elderly patient and the difficulty in caring for a loved one. *Here are some tips that can help to offset some of these problems and feelings that may impact the holiday celebration.

1. In preparation for the holiday, keep reminding your loved one that the holiday is coming.

2. Tell them where they will be going or, if they will be at home, tell them who will be visiting.

3. Remind them of the time that the celebration will begin. (I generally start telling my mother about the holiday, 2 or 3 days ahead of time repeating it each time I see her. I then ask her what we are doing for the holiday. Sometimes she gets annoyed when she does remember; other times she does not recall.)

4. At times, after asking your loved one about the holiday schedule, be prepared to either get no response or an incorrect response. Keep in mind that when the guests arrive or you get where you are going it helps if you remind them that you had discussed it with them.

5. Have your loved one assist in the preparation. For example have your loved one do simple decorating on the cookies or by cutting colored paper for making simple tree decorations. Other family members can participate and do the hard parts.

6. Take out old photo albums for them to look at with other family members and reminisce. Often your loved one can remember many of the events in the past. It makes them feel involved and needed when asked about specific pictures. They may even have stories to go with them - stories that the younger generation may not have heard.

7. Keep them active and engaged, even if they are just sitting in the room. Specifically address them when discussing various topics, asking them for their input.

8. When asking your loved one to participate, keep the instruction short and simple.

9. When asking them to do something, give them choices rather than ask if they would like to "Help out" It gives them the option to say "NO".
For example, "would you like want to help out with the food"? Or would do you like to help out with the decorations"?

Making sure that your loved one is involved in activities does so much to make them feel needed and part of the festivities. Preparing in advance is the key to having them as part of the holiday celebration. Aside from the benefit of reducing the stress level of the caregiver and your loved one, it will also help to keep them in better mental health and overall well-being.

Happy Holidays!

Nancy Hahn, RN, MPH
Vice President
Americare, Inc.

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