Tips To Navigate The Holiday Season While Caring For A Senior Loved One

Like them or hate them, the holidays are almost here.

To some, they can be a special time full of positive experiences, good memories, and more festivities than you can shake a sugar cookie at.

Though the original reasons for the celebrations this time of year have religious roots, anyone and everyone can find a reason to enjoy themselves with friends, food, and fun in November, December, and into January.

If you’re one of the lovers of winter and everything that comes with it, you can potentially can find reasons to enjoy yourself from Thanksgiving to New Years.

But not everyone is going to have a good time, and that’s OK. It’s easy to see why: the days are darker and colder and the stresses and bills are higher. There are all sorts of social obligations involved, from decorating to gift-giving.

It’s not hard to compare your view of the holidays with the glitzy, glamourous affairs you see other people enjoying on TV, and find yours lacking. Maybe you had good memories of family Christmases in the past, but more recent ones haven’t been as fun.

It can be even more of a challenge if you’re trying to care for a loved one this time of year. Caregiving can have its stressful moments any time of year, but can certainly feel a little rougher during the winter holidays. You might be feeling all of the previously-mentioned stresses, but the person you’re caring for also may be experiencing similar feelings plus maybe some of their own.  

Maybe they may feel unhappy that they need to receive care in the first place. Or that they may not be able to do as much as they used to, especially if mobility problems limit their ability to go out and visit others. They also may miss people from their past.  

Seek better ways

So with all of these reasons to feel down, how do you keep from doing so, and creating some brightness instead of bleakness?

There are actually quite a few useful ways.

  • Discuss needs and expectations. Someone may not want the whole place transformed into a Christmas village, which could feel overwhelming especially if there are mixed opinions and bittersweet memories. But doing nothing and treating the holidays like any other time of the year also might be depressing too. You, as a caregiver, and the person you care for, can maybe come up with some kind of satisfactory “in between” effort with a few decorations or a special meal. Maybe a small tree can be brought in, and doesn’t have to be a major messy production.
  • Find appropriate music. Some Christmas music can be nice, while others may trigger negative reactions. Today’s streaming services make it easy to pick certain genres or styles – maybe instead of something loud and peppy, you might enjoy something more soothing and tranquil. Or vice versa.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other people – or other Christmases. It can be fun to remember good times, but thinking along the lines of “that Christmas was more fun than this Christmas” can add to the negative feelings all around. Remind yourself – and those you care for – that many of the details of what we think  “the perfect Christmas” should be are sometimes artificial, created by marketing firms to sell more Christmas-related products and services. Christmas is a huge industry, with people not only buying gifts for each other but décor, food, and drink. But it also sets high expectations for people to try to achieve these ideal occasions that aren’t really real for many – think of the Norman Rockwell images of huge family celebrations.
  • Hear memories. Spending a holiday together can be a good time to hear stories about someone’s past Christmases. It can be an opportunity to hear stories about how a loved one experienced Christmas years before, especially if there are some stories you haven’t heard before. The person you’re caring for can share general details about their childhood and early Christmas memories. They also might enjoy sharing stories about the sentimental meaning of each special ornament. Not only will this spur their memories, it will pass the stories onto you, and you can share them (the ornaments and the stories about them) with your family in the future.
  • Cook together.  Combining efforts in the kitchen can be fun, especially if you’re the main one who is usually in there. You can create a Christmas meal or even some treats to give to friends, family, or neighbors. Whether it’s something you’ve done in the past and are continuing the tradition, or starting a new tradition, it can be fun either way.  
  • Look for ways to exercise. Even a walk around the block can be stimulating or a drive to the park, followed by a walk, can be enjoyable. If it’s cold, make sure to stay bundled up and not stay out too long. Reward the effort with a special treat like hot chocolate.

Making memories

Since it’s hard to directly compare this modern Christmas or Thanksgiving with memorable ones from the past, you can also use the opportunity to disrupt past traditions and make your own.  For instance, if someone is feeling bad because they can’t get a turkey or ham in time, start a new tradition with some other kind of meat. Maybe chicken? Throw in some tasty foods that don’t necessarily have anything to do with a holiday menu, and all of a sudden everyone is having fun and even a little daring.  

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