Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed sometimes by the
bustle of the holiday season? Add to that the responsibility of
caring for a frail elderly loved one, and burnout is simply a
concept waiting to become reality. But wait. If you’re one of the 22
million households providing care for a family member or friend,
there is hope. Stress doesn’t have to take the starring role in your
family festivities this year.
If you’re like the increasing number of
Americans who are trying to offer a sense of dignity to your
parent(s), include them in seasonal events and help them stay in
their own home, safety is your number one priority.
Most accidents happen at home in unsupervised
situations. This season, enlist the help of older children or a
spouse, playing games with (Great) Grandma and (Great) Grandpa while
you change beds, do the laundry and other chores. Instead of
decorating to the hilt, keep holiday décor simple. Eliminate the
need for extension cords on the floor and “declutter” your notion of
decoration: use colorful paper garlands strung high instead of
breakable objects placed within reach. Remove anything a child or a
frail elderly person may stumble over. Replace candles with bright
centerpieces of fruit or flowers. Keep candy to an absolute minimum
to prevent sugar highs and lows.
With the emphasis on “good cheer” during the
month of December, the options are many. But don’t wear yourself out
trying to make the holidays “happen” for everyone. If you don’t get
yourself in a situation where you “overdo” you’ll be more alert to
hazards—even emotional ones. Holidays bring emotions to the surface
because they hold the most intense memories for your loved ones, and
some may not be pleasant. You may find that tears fall for no
apparent reason, or that a frail elderly parent suddenly seems gruff
or annoyed just when you think everything is fine. Sometimes, the
emotional stress of the season makes a frail aging parent seem
distant, just when you want to draw them close. We never know what
precipitates these reactions; we only have to deal with them. That’s
not an easy task, but first and foremost, a caregiver must keep her
own emotional balance.
Set a few guidelines as to what you expect from yourself. From the
very start, set your intention to be positive during the holidays,
and to respond with calmness to upsetting scenarios. Sure, things
may come to the boiling point at times, but the resolve not to react
in like manner will bring the most effective results. People don’t
intend to be grumpy, distant or to give you a hard time. These
behaviors may simply be a way of asking for help. The best way to
give it is by remaining patient, offering consistent encouragement,
and setting safe boundaries.
You cannot make everyone happy at all times, but
you can take responsibility for your own emotional highs and lows.
Preserve a few moments each day all for yourself. Take a half-hour
break while your children entertain the frail elderly with Christmas
music from the 30s, 40s and 50s or interview their grandparents
about favorite holiday memories. You might enlist the services of a
home-help organization to do some of the household chores while you
go grocery shopping or simply take a walk. Professional caregivers
can also help alert you to signs of stress or special needs that you
might not recognize on a day-to-day basis, curtailing accidents or
Keep in mind that a frail person may tire more
easily during the holiday season, need more sleep as the days grow
shorter, and also need their own “space.” Ask for their help; ask
them to let you know what they need and how they want to celebrate.
Their answers may surprise you. Above all, an older frail person may
crave our respect and our admiration. When we praise the good things
they’ve accomplished in life, make certain they know that we
appreciate their legacy, and tell them we’re happy they’re with us,
things will be a lot easier. If they seem only to complain more,
well, just grease the wheel with a little praise for yourself. Send
positive messages to yourself out loud and mix in a few more
affirmations for them.
The holidays are a great time to slow down
instead of speed up. Think about all the things you can let remain
undone instead of all the things you need to do. Give yourself a
challenge to match the tempo of your frail elderly relatives or
friends, and see if you don’t enjoy the season more. And after all,
isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?
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