How to Give Caregivers a Break During the Holidays

Gearing Up for the Holiday Season

Caring for a loved one who faces serious health challenges can be a consuming job — at any time of the year. But often there’s even more to do during the holidays, from getting a person ready for what can be a joyful but stressful experience, to alerting others to the person’s changing condition — for example with the progressive neurodegenerative condition Alzheimer’s disease — before arriving. “Then layered on top of that are all of the holiday expectations to be in a celebratory mood and to be available to host family, and to be interested in doing activities … and being up for engaging,” says Leah Eskenazi, director of operations at the Family Caregiver Alliance, based in San Francisco. It’s a lot to tackle.

Reaching Out

To be sure, experts encourage caregivers to reach out for an assist, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. “We know one of the hardest things for caregivers to do is to ask others for help,” says Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support at the Alzheimer’s Association. “But certainly it does make a difference, because we know that caregivers can’t do this alone.” Besides reaching out to family and friends — if possible to get help from others in one’s circle — experts recommend utilizing resources, visiting sites of organizations like the Family Caregiver Alliance (caregiver.org), and accessing the Alzheimer Association’s 24/7 Helpline for information and support. And here’s how you can lend a hand:

Don’t wait for the ask. Offer to help.

While caregivers are encouraged to advocate for themselves — and not just the person they’re caring for — it can be especially helpful for family and friends to be proactive. There’s plenty to do — like making meals and helping with other preparations. When asking how you can help, make sure to get into particulars. “Be specific,” says C. Grace Whiting, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “Try something like, ‘I noticed you’re doing mom’s laundry. Can I take it to the cleaners for you or would you feel comfortable with me taking on laundry?’ Identifying concrete activities and offering to help, even if it’s as simple as cooking or cleaning, can indicate you want to support the caregiver.”

Give them a ride.

If you have suitable transportation for the job, it may help to provide door-to-door service, like to an older family member with limited mobility, rather than relying on a primary caregiver to do this. In some cases, it may help to give both the caregiver and the person cared for a lift. Just make sure you’re prepared and know what’s needed in advance. For example, make sure that the car is large enough to carry a walker or wheelchair, if needed, and that the person being cared for can get in and out of the vehicle you bring, Eskenazi says.

Adjust expectations.

Instead of laying a guilt trip on the caregiver, be accommodating while still including the caregiver in your plans and finding another way to connect if that person is no longer able to, say, host Thanksgiving dinner or attend a major holiday event. “Be supportive. If the caregiver is tired and really doesn’t want to prepare a meal or go visiting, accept their decision and move on with your plans,” Eskenazi says. “That doesn’t mean ignoring them, it doesn’t mean abandoning them. It means maybe going out to dinner, and then coming back and bringing a really good tasty dessert for the caregiver to enjoy in the comfort of their home.”

Ensure there’s a quiet place.

While the needs of people with health limitations differ — whether one has a heart condition, dementia or various medical complications — for many the holiday hullabaloo can be overwhelming, and it can help to take breaks. “A very simple thing that friends and family can do is to really ensure that there’s a quiet place for the person with the disease,” Moreno says. Just having some quiet time periodically can improve the experience for the caregiver and the person living with the disease, she says.

Take a holiday from your smartphone.

It’s a good habit to turn off or at least pocket handheld screens any time you’re visiting — and all the more so here. “Caregiving can be really isolating. Social time with friends is often crowded out because the caregiver is busy with caregiving responsibilities,” Eskenazi says. “So putting your cellphone away and offering your undivided attention is critical. Listen, listen, listen without judgment, without making recommendations unless asked.” Also, do your homework regarding the needs of the person who is being cared for so that you can better engage that individual as well to free up the caregiver to visit with others. Adds Eskenazi: “I’d encourage people to put their needs aside for the day and just really be there for the caregiver.”

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How to Give Caregivers a Break During the Holidays originally appeared on usnews.com