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As the saying goes “time flies” and it seems that is especially true when it comes to the holidays; one day it’s Halloween and in the blink of an eye it’s Christmas and Hanukkah. The holiday season is hectic at best and if you are the caregiver for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease it can be even more difficult. Caregiving takes enormous amounts of time and energy. It can unexpectedly disrupt even the best laid plans. In addition, your loved one may react to increased activity and/or stress in the house, resulting in behavioral difficulties and outbursts. How are you supposed to prepare for the holidays while also attending to your caregiving responsibilities and providing the best for your loved one? Here are some suggestions that may help.

Begin planning now. Yes, it’s only October but planning for the holidays much earlier than usual can go a long way toward reducing stress and anxiety. You may not want to change the way you celebrate the holidays or the responsibilities you take on, but it will help to begin planning now. For example:

  • Send out invitations to holiday celebrations now and reduce the time allowed for RSVPs. The sooner you know who is coming the sooner you can prepare.
  • Decide if you will host the celebrations or not. If you decide not to host, let the family know now.
  • Be honest with yourself and what you can take on for holiday planning. Take a serious look at your schedule and decide how much time you have for cooking and hosting. The holidays will be much more enjoyable if you are not under immense pressure to do all the things you traditionally have done.
  • Consider your loved one. What is his or her cognitive and emotional state? Will he or she be able to tolerate a large gathering in the house? Will he or she be able to travel to another family member’s home for holiday gatherings? If the answer is no, begin making alternate plans now for modified celebrations or some type of care for your loved one.

Consider asking for help. A geriatric care manager can help you manage caregiving and ease some of your responsibilities during the holiday season. Geriatric care managers have extensive networks and resources and they can find support for you  before, during and after the holidays. For example, they can help you juggle the added pressures of the holiday season with your current schedule by finding transportation, healthcare and caregiving support. They are also trained to help families navigate the tensions and conflict that can arise when holiday traditions must be changed.

Lower the bar of expectations for yourself. As you think about the upcoming holidays and the planning, cooking and shopping you usually do, be good to yourself. What can you honestly do this year? For example:

  • If you have always made many homemade gifts, you may need to reduce the number you make. You may find acceptable gifts at craft and art shows.
  • If you always cooked all the food for family celebrations, search local bakeries and farm stands to discover unique items you can buy instead.
  • If your holiday gift buying usually involves many trips to the mall and other stores try shopping online. You can do it whenever you have a few moments in the morning, evening or at lunchtime. It’s fun, companies gift wrap for you, and the gifts are delivered to your door.
  • Think about the extra work you take on during the holidays. Shed as many of the tasks as possible. This is a good time to learn to delegate when possible and say “no” to added responsibilities.

Whether or not to travel

Do you usually travel for the holidays? If so, consider the cognitive, emotional and physical condition of the loved one in your care. If your loved one is frail, or has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, traveling will be difficult and may adversely impact his or her health. Those with any type of dementia may become confused, disoriented and act out while traveling. The disease makes it difficult to understand new surroundings or process crowded places like train stations and airports. You may have to change your travel plans or find a responsible person to care for your loved one while you travel.

You can survive the holidays if you begin to plan now. First and foremost is the importance of paying attention to yourself and realistically assessing what you can and cannot do. Take it easy on yourself and ask for help. It may help you to enjoy the holidays more.