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Holiday Tips for Caregivers - Get Organized

caregiver roles holidays Dec 13, 2018

The holidays are a time when friends and family gather, reminisce and create new memories.  Most often, there is laughter, food and drink, and a festive vibe.  As a caregiver to a senior, though, the holidays may bring some added pressure.

Caregiving roles can take many different forms.  We have looked at them from 3 different perspectives - that of :  Caregiver Living Near, Caregiver Living Away, and Solo Caregiver.  

It may be useful to look at not only your role, but also the role of others to gain a greater perspective on issues facing the family unit.  

 

Caregiver Living Near

 In many families, there is a main caregiver either living with, or near a senior.  This may be you, or this may be a shared role among a group of individuals.  The most responsible adult caregiver can have a difficult role. That person is often providing daily or routine support as well as being ‘on-call’ 24/7.   Local caregivers may also be juggling other commitments (including family and work) with an already full schedule, while assuming these additional responsibilities. 

For the caregiver living near, holidays may be particularly busy obligations related to family, school, work as well as the senior - organizing end of term school and other activities for kids, meeting year end deadlines at work, accommodating changes to family schedules due to holiday closures, fitting in medical appointments for seniors, preparing for holiday activities, and travelling to/or receiving  family and friends. 

At the same time, they may feel as though other family members who live away are unaware of the time, physical and emotional energy spent in this role. They may feel unappreciated, unsupported or criticized.  That being said, local caregivers are sometimes unaware of the contribution of others, regardless of where they live.  This may be an opportunity, before getting well into the holidays, to touch base with others to catch up, share information, share thanks, and get organized. 

 

What are 5 things that caregivers living near should consider?

 

  1. Prioritize:

 Holidays can feel like anything but!  Heightened expectations, schedule changes, increased workload, holiday closures, increased family, work and school obligations.  It is easy to become overwhelmed when you are juggling competing demands on your time and energy. 

A few weeks prior to ‘downtime’ and ‘holidays’, it is important to take the time to prioritize and plan.   What to do we mean?  While many of us are used to making seemingly endless lists, organizing a multitude of activities, and accomplishing a huge number of tasks, it is equally important to stop and see what can be deferred or crossed off the list.

Not every invitation needs to be accepted – politely declining ‘this year’ may be a great option.  Simplify, streamline or eliminate where possible.  Not every tradition needs to be continued, nor continued in the same manner.  Decide what is most meaningful and simplify. 

The end of the year traditionally is a time to reflect on past responsibilities and future priorities.  Make time to relax and rejuvenate.  Make time to sleep.  

 

  1. Communicate:

Touch base early with people visiting from out of town, or if you are travelling with the senior.

If it is important to keep the senior’s schedule for medical, memory or mental health reasons, let others know in advance.  This may need that some ‘traditional activities’ need to be shifted – but better to plan in advance to accommodate the needs of all generations.   Some things may need to be deferred for a year. 

Likewise, if there are new dietary restrictions (e.g., low salt diet, no alcohol), make them known well in advance so meals can be planned.  If there has been a recent change in the senior’s status, this might be a good time to schedule a conference call so that everyone is up to speed before they arrive.  Finally, clarify expectations of friends and family who are coming from out of town (or who will be hosting from out of town).  Were there special activities, meetings, or discussions that they were counting on? 

 

  1. Stay healthy:

Make healthier food choices.  Hide some or the treats – out of sight is out of mind.  Keep healthier options available for snacking.  Simplify meal prep, with an emphasis on balanced, easy to prepare, yet enjoyable options.  Not every holiday meal needs to be a calorie laden feast - even in the face of holiday treats and excess. Drink more water, and dodge sugary drinks and alcohol.  Get exercise and get outside, regardless of where you live. A short burst of exercise clears the mind and brings calm – it can also help you sleep better.

Unfortunately, many viral illnesses (e.g., colds, flu, ‘gastro’) are more commonly found in the community. These can make the holidays not only uncomfortable, but also downright dangerous to a senior with chronic health conditions.  Individuals who are travelling, fatigued, or with young children may also be at increased risk of illness.  Ask family to get routine flu vaccines, and to stay away if ill. 

Make sure everyone washes their hands on arrival, and provide hand sanitizer if there is no convenient spot to wash hands. Provide tissues (and an accessible garbage to dispose of used ones!) in an easy to find location. Ensure that everyone has adequate downtime to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. Get outside. Get exercise.  A short burst of exercise clears the mind and brings a sense of calm – it may also help you sleep better. 

If family members become ill, try not to spread germs.  Isolate individuals as best as possible, making sure that surfaces are cleaned well with appropriate cleaning solutions (especially for those with stomach upset). Do not share food or eating utensils; use high temperature to wash dishes or use a dishwasher.  

 

  1. Ask the senior:

In the planning of the holidays, the senior may not get an opportunity to help with the planning.  Ensure that their priorities are met too! Depending on their health status, their activities may need to be streamlined. Seniors with hearing or vision problems, cognitive disorders or mobility issues may be less comfortable in a crowded or noisy environment.  Make sure they feel safe and comfortable. 

 

  1. Take time for yourself:

Ask for help in advance.  Identify tasks that other family or friends who are visiting can take on.  Ask for input from others. Start a list and distribute it now. There may be things that have already been planned of which you were unaware.  There may be things you had not considered. 

Schedule time off – then take it.  If friends and family have created downtime for you, graciously accept it.   Take them up on that offer – then step back and let them do it.  They may not do things the way you would have, they may do it better! 

  

Caregiver from Away

Long distance caregiving (defined as living greater than 1-hour distance) is increasing. Being the adult child who lives away from the senior can be a difficult role. Even if there are other adult caregivers living closer to the senior, you recognize that you are responsible for an equal share of care. You may want to support the senior, and at the same time not disrupt routines established by family members who live closer to the senior. Chances are you have commitments where you live (including family and work) that already create a more than full schedule. Chances are, family members living close to the senior also have commitments that create more than a full schedule.  In many families, there is a main caregiver either living with, or near a senior, however, the main caregiver may be you, or shared role among a group of individuals. 

The most responsible adult caregiver can have a difficult role. That person is often providing daily or routine support as well as being ‘on-call’ 24/7 and also be juggling other commitments creating a full schedule.  An issue for many family members who live away is that others are unaware of the time, physical and emotional energy spent in their role.  Caregivers living away may feel the same - unappreciated, unsupported or criticized.  Communication and balance are required to make this work.  This may be an opportunity, before getting well into the holidays, to touch base with others to catch up, share information, share thanks, and get organized. 

For the caregiver living away, priorities may be similar to that of the caregiver living near, but reflect the need to plan ahead. 

 

What are 5 things a caregiver living away should consider?

 

  1. Communication:

Set up a workable system for periodic updates about the senior with local family members or health care providers. Touch base early with people early if you are visiting from out of town, or if you are expecting the senior to travel to you. 

Get a good understanding of any limitations – don’t assume anything – where you will stay, what your plans will be, or what your responsibilities ought to be.  Speak with the ‘team’ on site as they will have the best idea as to what is both appropriate and feasible. The situation may be fluid and you will want to help, not complicate, the festivities.

Communicate well. Listen carefully first, seek clarification, offer to help and ensure solutions are functional. 

                      

  1. Be Flexible:

Be ready to hear what would be most helpful to local family members (or the team you have put in place to support the senior). Examine your own commitments and personal/work supports (family, work and more) to create flexibility in your schedule, so that when needed, you can devote more time to the senior’s situation.

If it is important understand the senior’s schedule (often in place for medical, memory or mental health reasons), in advance.  This may mean that some ‘traditional activities’ need to be shifted – but better to plan in advance to accommodate the needs of all generations.   Some things may need to be deferred for a year. Understand that there may be changes in the senior’s status that you did not anticipate or did not understand. 

 

  1. Think long-term

Try not to disrupt routines too much (everyone wants to play the role of “fun child”!).  Changes to diet, schedules or routines with “holiday” time when you visit, can have unintended consequences. Routines and schedules may need to be re-established which often increases the workload, stress and time commitment of local family members who reassume care.

Help others understand your contribution.  It may be (or feel like it is) hidden.  There may be tasks and issues that you have taken on currently and in the past.  It is important that everyone sees the big picture.  Even though it may be a difficult discussion to have, it will only help in the long term, especially if more support is required by the senior.  Sometimes, caregivers living away will feel that the caregiver living near the senior has ‘taken over’ or is ‘giving orders’.  This may in fact be the practical (but uncomfortable) reality or it may be a false assumption.  At some time, this may need to be discussed – but in general, the holiday period may not be the best choice opportunity as emotions, often mixed, may already be running high.  Step back, give time for everyone to think, and schedule a time in the new year. 

Keep away if you are ill.  We all want to enjoy being together over the holidays, but you don’t want to be remembered for making other family members sick.  If you become ill when visiting, do your best to find ways to self isolate, or minimize the risk of infecting others. 

 

  1. Ask the senior:

In the planning of the holidays, the senior may not get an opportunity to help with the planning.  Ensure that their priorities are met too! Depending on their health status, their activities may need to be streamlined – be aware of limitations and determine whether requests are realistic.  Get advice as to whether suggested activities are appropriate.  Keep in mind that seniors with hearing or vision problems, cognitive disorders or mobility issues may be less comfortable in a crowded or noisy environment.  Make sure they feel safe and comfortable. 

 

  1. Support the primary caregiver:

Ask how you can help in advance.  Identify tasks that you or other family members or friends can take on.  Start a list and distribute it in advance.  There may be things that have already been planned of which you were unaware.  There may be things you had not considered. 

Be gracious.  Be supportive.  Avoid making comments that will be perceived as criticism.  Get an understanding of how you can contribute at a distance, when you return home.   Again, it is common for caregivers living away to feel that they are being left out of the loop or being ‘bossed around’.   At some time, this may need to be discussed – schedule a time in the new year, as a fresh start. 

  

The Solo Caregiver

Many caregivers will take on the role singlehandedly, either because they have no other siblings or relatives, or if no one else is willing or able to take on these responsibilities.

Whether the caregiver lives away from the senior or locally, it is critical to start preparing and revisit tasks especially over the holiday period where responsibilities may increase, due to a lack of available support services. 

In this situation, it is best to plan as well in advance as possible, in order to determine both needs and availability.  For many solo caregivers, their ‘holiday’ comes after the holidays, when routines return to normal. 

 

  1. Plan Ahead:

Create as many supports as possible – know whether holiday periods will impact services and programs that are currently being used.  Ask for advice as to what may be available in the short term, or if respite care is needed.  Where possible, reduce or shift other commitments (family, work, volunteer and social) to create space for increased time engaged on the senior’s issues.

 

  1. Prioritize:

The fact of the matter is that you may not be able to do it all and it is easy to become overwhelmed physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually when you are trying to do it all.  The reality is that some things may need to be ‘downsized’ or deferred.  Choose what is most important.

Simplify where you can.  Make time for yourself.  Try not to feel guilty. 

 

  1. Stay healthy:

You are no good to yourself or to the senior if you are sick, tired or burned out.  Ensure that you look after yourself. 

Make healthier food choices.  Simplify meal prep, with an emphasis on balanced, easy to prepare, yet enjoyable options.  Not every holiday meal needs to be a calorie laden feast - even in the face of holiday treats and excess. Drink more water, and dodge sugary drinks and alcohol.  Get exercise and get outside, regardless of where you live. A short burst of exercise clears the mind and brings calm – it can also help you sleep better.

Get your own flu vaccine.  Stay away from those who are ill.  Make sure people wash their hands when they visit, and especially before meal prep and meals. 

 

  1. Ask the senior:

In the planning of the holidays, the senior may not get an opportunity to help with the planning.  Ensure that their priorities are met too! You may be surprised by what they feel is important. 

 

  1. Take time for yourself:

Ask for help in advance. Identify tasks that others can take on. Ask for input from others.  There may be things that have already been planned of which you were unaware. There may be things you had not considered. 

Schedule time off – even if it comes before or after the holidays.  Make sure you take it.  If friends and family have created downtime for you, graciously accept it.  Take them up on that offer – then step back and let them do it.  They may not do things the way you would have, they may do it better!  It may also make sense to hire help for certain tasks that can be easily offloaded.

While some solo caregivers assume that it will be less hassle to attend to the senior without having to work with other family members, it takes a high degree of organization, and it can be isolating as well. Those around the caregiver may not be understanding of the caregiver’s schedule, or perceive they are putting the senior’s needs above all others.  Manage these issues up front, with open dialogue, and find ways to have fun.

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