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Health Today: Tips for caregivers during the holidays

by UofL Today last modified Dec 16, 2010 07:43 PM

Take the stress of caring for an elderly loved one with debilitating illness or cognitive impairment and mix in the activities and expectations of the holiday season.

It is a recipe that could result in mental, emotional or physical distress for the caregiver.

Kimberly H. Toebbe, special projects coordinator with University of Louisville Geriatrics and facilitator of UofL’s Alzheimer’s Care Partners Support Group, offers these suggestions to help lessen or alleviate stress caregivers may experience at this time of year:

  • Make very clear to everyone what your care-giving situation is and say no to extra duties.  Keep in mind that it takes three full-time caregivers to care for one person with dementia, so even with your super-hero cape, you can't do it all alone.
  • Allow others to clean, prepare meals, purchase and wrap gifts, (if you choose to give gifts at all), or better yet, have them take over care giving while you get out of the house and do some of those happy chores as you desire.
  • People with dementia still can sing old songs, especially holiday favorites, so involve the person you care for by singing with him or her, or even dancing, if possible.
  • Supervised cooking projects involve all of the senses. The person you care for can roll out dough or put sprinkles on cookies, stir eggnog and more as abilities and safety allow.
  • Keep the person you care for to his or her structured routine as much as possible.  Becoming overtired may lead to discomfort for the person and unwelcome behaviors which make others uncomfortable.
  • Reminisce about holidays past. Look at ornaments, photos and decorations and discuss the “old days.”
  • Keep it simple. For example, many people who require care experience “sundowning,” or having problems at the late afternoon/early evening mealtime. If sundowning is a problem for your loved one, plan smaller events at times when the person is at his or her best.  It is better to have a potluck than attempting to cook for a crowd. Also, get help with cleaning if folks are coming to your house rather than trying to do it all yourself.
  • Smile and try to find the silver lining in the situation. We all wish for more rest, more time, more love, more money and more happiness, and that we get them all in our lifetimes. The fact is, we just don't necessarily get these gifts when and where we want them.  Enjoy simply spending time with your loved ones, holding hands, being quiet, resting and having the happiest holidays possible.

UofL Geriatrics provides specialized health care to people age 65 and older. Located at Cardinal Station, 215 Central Ave., UofL Geriatrics offers a comprehensive geriatric assessment through the Geriatric Evaluation and Treatment program, which includes both physical and mental status examinations. For information or to make an appointment, call (502) 852-7449.

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