Dementia Caregiving: Overcoming the Emotional Challenges of the Holidays

For caregivers of a loved one with dementia, the holidays can be both a wonderful and difficult time. On one hand, it’s joyful to be able to gather with loved ones, celebrate family traditions and make memories. On the other hand, the holidays can add a lot of extra stress to your already stressful and busy life.

Cindy Wirth, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury, says that these feelings are completely natural and perhaps signal an opportunity for caregivers to switch things up this holiday season. “Caregivers tend to place unrealistic expectations on themselves without realizing they’re the only ones with those expectations,” she says. “By recognizing the stressors and emotional challenges taking place during the holiday season, you can focus on what’s really important and let go of some of the other stuff. The best gift you can give yourself is a break!”

We’ve put together some tips to help caregivers overcome the emotional challenges of the holidays and help them make the season merry for their loved one with dementia, their families and themselves.

1. Focus on what’s meaningful

We can get so wrapped up in creating a “perfect” holiday experience for ourselves and our loved ones that we miss the reason for the season entirely. The perfect décor, perfect meal, perfect gifts – that’s not what’s important during the holidays. Spending time with the people we love, creating joy and feeling the love are what’s really important.

As a caregiver, there are many things in life we aren’t able to control: our loved one’s health, emotions and abilities; the amount of help other family members give (or don’t); financial burdens; the daily difficulties of balancing so many tasks. What we can control, however, is our emotions and our mindset. This year, reconsider what makes a “perfect” holiday for you and your loved ones. Is it sitting and sharing memories? Is it a family meal where everyone’s together? Focus on what’s most meaningful, and you’ll be surprised how easily the rest of the holiday will follow.

2. Simplify your festive fun

If the thought of putting up all the decorations and getting the right gift for everyone and attending all the events and everything else is too much for this year … don’t do it all! Remember, the holidays aren’t all or nothing. If you aren’t able to go full Griswold with your holiday lights this year, just hang a nice lighted wreath. Or just decorate the mantel and don’t worry about all the rest of the rooms. You also don’t have to go to every single holiday performance going on – choose just one or two that will be the most fun. If you don’t have it in you to attend all the holiday parties you’re getting invitations for, choose just a few – or none at all. Whatever will make you and your loved one feel the most jolly without turning anyone Grinch-like.

3. Adjust traditions

Instead of focusing on things you may not be able to do this year, consider starting something new. If your loved one with dementia isn’t up for a drive across the state for a family gathering, consider using Skype or another video chat to “dine remotely” with the family. Unable to attend a live performance of The Nutcracker? Watch a video version instead from the comfort of your home. With a little creativity, you’ll find that many of your beloved family traditions can be adjusted to meet your and your loved one’s needs.                            

4. Simplify holiday meals

One of the biggest traditions we all have revolves around holiday food. While it may be hard to think about changing your mealtime traditions, remember that coordinating a large meal requires a lot of work. If you’re exhausted by your caregiving chores, the thought of planning a meal may be too much. So, instead of burning yourself out, simplify your meals by making a few adjustments like:

  • Paring down the menu (e.g., two side dishes instead of four)
  • Go potluck and have other guests bring a dish to pass
  • Have the holiday meal catered – many grocery stores have the option, and they can deliver it to your home, too!
  • Have someone else hold the gathering, or go out to eat at a restaurant

5. Make gift-giving easier

Gift-giving doesn't have to be a big blowout. At the risk of sounding trite, remember that it really is the thought that counts. Consider doing your holiday shopping online (gift wrapped and all), or ask a friend or family member to help you out with the shopping and wrapping part. If finances are tight this year, don’t feel bad about scaling back. Gifts don’t have to have a high monetary value to be meaningful. Giving the gift of time or attention can be good as well.                                                           

6. Be mindful

There’s a reason that “think positive” is a piece of advice often given to caregivers. Negative thinking can activate stress in your body, while thinking positively and slowing down to be in the present has the opposite effect. Think about what you’re able to do instead of what you can’t, celebrate your loved one’s remaining abilities instead of dwelling on what they can no longer do; enjoy the holiday joy you experience instead of what you can’t.

7. Ask for help

Need some help this holiday season? Ask for it – don’t be shy. Even being able to grab a few hours to get a haircut or take a nap can be a wonderful gift. Ask others to help with holiday preparations, or splurge for a cleaning service to freshen up the house before a holiday meal. Be bold and ask friends and family members to help out with your loved one for an afternoon – chances are, they’ll leap at the opportunity to help. You can also look into adult day care centers or respite care to give both you and your loved one a bit of a break.

8. Give yourself the gift of self-care

As you take care of everyone else this holiday season, don’t forget to care for yourself. Running yourself ragged will leave you stressed, exhausted and potentially even depressed, all of which can affect your health. Do what you can to be kind to yourself – take a nap, don’t overeat, go on a walk around the block. If you’re struggling with depression or stress, consider asking your doctor about medications that may be able to help.

If you would like more information about caregiving tips for the holiday season, call us at 978.261.7007.

Exceptional Care. Engaging Lifestyle.

Now open! Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury provides exceptional memory care in a comfortable, upbeat and engaging environment. Designed specifically to support people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Bridges® by EPOCH creates a wellness-focused lifestyle that respects individual preferences. Our teams receive ongoing, specialized training so they may help residents to safely exercise their independence and individuality in a secure, calm environment.

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We provide complete peace of mind for families and residents experiencing early-, mid- or late-stage memory loss. Our expert dementia care, all-inclusive services and personalized programs are tailored to meet the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of each resident wherever they are on their journey, allowing them to age in place safely, comfortably and with respect.

Welcoming, Purpose-Built Design

Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury is more than a safe, beautiful place to live; it’s truly a home, where compassionate, dementia-educated caregivers help people with memory loss live more joyful lives and where families enjoy spending time together again. Our research-based design features soft lighting and colors, non-glare flooring, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life-enrichment stations that empower residents to comfortably move about their homes with confidence.

Call us today at 978.261.7007 to learn more about Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury or to schedule a personal tour.