Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tis the Season to be Joyful—or Stressed

Holiday Lights in Branson
We all hold tightly to traditions that lift our spirits. Some holidays are so special they create golden glows in our memories. It may be challenging to remain joyful about the holidays if you are a primary caregiver for a loved one with dementia.

Much of the season may be spent running interference between your loved one and relatives, friends, or neighbors that just don’t get it. You may need to make adjustments to protect your loved one and your sanity. With careful planning, even these difficult times may seem like small miracles on your own street.

After spending ten holiday seasons as a primary caregiver, I had time to learn how to survive the holidays. I would like to share a few tips I learned—mostly from trial and error.

  • Keep it Simple. Less is better in all things holiday. Just because you have a thousand points of light, don’t string them everywhere. Avoid going overboard with decorations, food, and celebrations.
  • Don’t Shop Till You Drop. Slash your gift list to immediate family. Consider the advantages of shopping online or purchasing gift cards. If you enjoy shopping, find someone to stay with your loved one and plan a weekend away. Shop. Relax. Shop. Relax. Repeat the relaxing as often as necessary.
  •  Strive for Peace and Joy. Go back to the basics and the reason for the season. Read inspiring holiday stories. You can enjoy a tin of popcorn and watch a movie on TV. If your loved one can’t make it to the grandchildren’s holiday program, have mom or dad record it and watch it at home.
  • Jingle Bells. Enjoy traditional Christmas music with your loved one. You may love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but your loved one will more likely enjoy “White Christmas” or even “Frosty the Snowman.” Music can trigger happy memories.
  • Keep Traditions You Love. Only you know which traditions you keep because you enjoy them. If you spend hours baking or making candy just because everyone expects you to do it—stop!
  • Allow More Time. When you are a caregiver, it just takes more time to get things done. You will want to avoid getting frazzled and cranky because you ran out of time. Plan ahead and let your loved one with dementia help you. How about letting her slather icing on sugar cookies? Does it really matter if they are perfect? Maybe he would like to stick bows or nametags on packages for the grandkids.
  • Give the Gift of Love. If you are so stressed out trying to make the holidays perfect for everyone, you forget the most important thing. Slow down, take a deep breath, laugh and find happiness in the moment. Remember the greatest gift of all is love.
In the early stages, I would drive Jim around town to look at the holiday lights. In the late stages, Jim would spend hours looking at the little fiber optic tree I put in his room at the nursing home. Feeding him on Christmas day is, believe it or not, a memory I cherish. I remember holding his hand while we watched the little tree whirl round and round and listened to the same Christmas songs we sang in elementary school.  Even the most poignant times have turn into precious memories.
Copyright Dec 2011 L.S. Fisher

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