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Caregiving is not a topic taught in school and parents get a dose of education as they raise children but caring for an adult with a debilitating disease or condition is a completely different situation. Holidays can add a curve ball into normal routines especially if the person has cognitive challenges and other conditions that affect thinking and communication.

Family and friends may expect the caregiver to carry on with old traditions and not understand the level of stress you face each day. Although it is understandable to have reservations about discussing a loved one’s impairments, honest communication about the realities of the caregiving situation offers others the opportunity to respond with assistance. Sharing the truths of your situation may help reduce some of the feelings of isolation and lack of appreciation common in caregivers.

Though it may be hard, it’s essential to communicate your needs and limits, ideally before the holiday season begins. Family gatherings may be more meaningful if done in a smaller group to accommodate hearing deficits plus better manage the environmental stimulation which can be irritating to a person with dementia. You may also have to choose which events to attend based on which would be the simplest, least exhausting, and most enjoyable for the person for whom you provide care—and for you.

Don’t expect the person with cognitive impairment to be able to adapt to all situations; you may need to adapt the environment to their needs. See if you can arrange to have another room in the house designated as a quiet place for the impaired person. Many people with dementia find multiple conversations and background noise disturbing. To avoid this anxiety, the person may benefit from time in a quieter room with less stimulus where family members could take turns visiting with them

While caregiving, it is easy to get caught up in all the tasks of personal care and homemaking chores. Make a point of setting some time aside this holiday season to enjoy the person you care for in a relaxed, one-on-one context. The best activities are those which take advantage of long-term memory—usually less impaired in people with dementia. Try looking through family photo albums or unpacking holiday decorations, which may stimulate memories.