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When gearing up for the holidays this season, preparations and properly set expectations are invaluable. While it’s absolutely important to prepare your friends and family for any changes they may not expect in the appearance or attitude of the loved one in your care, it is equally important to prepare your aging or ailing loved one for the holidays. In this article, we will give you five tips to prepare your aging or ailing loved one for the holiday season to ensure your celebrations are less stressful and more fun.

Five tips to prepare your loved one for the holiday season

The holidays alone can be incredibly stressful for many, but that is especially true for a loved one with a physical or cognitive impairment. The holidays also put a lot of stress on you as the caregiver because of the added responsibility of care. To help you glide through the holidays this year, here are five tips.

  1. Set a Calendar

To prepare your loved one for the holiday season, it’s important to know what kinds of events and interactions they can reasonably expect. If possible, get their input on what they’re comfortable with. 

By preparing a calendar, you can look at all potential obligations and prioritize or make cuts where needed. You do not need to over commit or say yes to everything that you are invited to. Your calendar and boundaries are completely in your control. Remember, your priority is to keep your loved one safe, healthy, and happy. You can cut anything that goes against that goal without guilt.

  1. Plan around your loved one

As the primary caregiver for your loved one, you know better than anyone what their best and worst times of day are. You also have a grasp of what level of activity they can reasonably handle in a day and know how to manage their routine.

Your experience and instinct can help you schedule events that your loved one and yourself will enjoy at the times of day that are best. Sticking as close as possible to your loved ones existing routine will help avoid stomach upset, inopportune exhaustion, etc. For example, if your loved one is more energetic in the afternoon than in the evening, arrange family get-togethers around lunch instead of dinner.

Even if that means meeting separately with a smaller group, working within your loved one’s interests and limits is crucial.

Bonus: Plan to bring something your loved one can comfortably eat without stomach irritation. The holidays are full of dishes that only come around once a year, so if you aren’t sure how your loved one’s stomach will react, it’s better to come prepared.

  1. Familiarize your loved one

If your loved one is dealing with cognitive impairment, one of the most stressful parts of the holidays may be trying to remember everyone in attendance. In the case of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it can be helpful to show your loved one photos or videos of the people they can expect to see. Even if they can’t remember the details when the day arrives, the recent reminder may help them feel a bit more at ease.

  1. Create an exit strategy

There are a few ways you can create an exit strategy to help your loved one deal with the stresses of holiday get-togethers.

First, you can come up with a safe word or signal that indicates that your loved one is ready to leave. Sometimes our expectations for how an event will go and the reality of how the event unfolds don’t align. By having a safety signal that the two of you understand, your loved one will be able to communicate when they’re ready to go.

Second, you can create a safe space wherever you are. Find a quiet corner or room that you and your loved one can retreat to when you need a break. The stimulation of children, pets, and adults can be overwhelming. Sometimes a quick breather is all it takes to make the situation feel more in control.

Finally, it may make sense to prepare an exit time. Sometimes gatherings can make it easy to lose track of time, which can make it equally easy to overstimulate or overwhelm your loved one. By setting a timer on your phone to buzz and remind you when it’s time to leave, you can better ensure that you won’t push your loved ones beyond their limits.

  1. Make sure your loved one feels confident

Finally, you can help your loved one feel confident and at ease by helping them feel their best. You can take this opportunity to get haircuts together, get new outfits, or get your nails or makeup done together. This little bit of pampering can go along way in easing any tension or nerves surrounding the holidays.

Closing Thoughts 

The holidays should be fun and joyful as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your loved ones about how you’re feeling, and take care of your needs too. 

The California Caregiver Resource Centers are a network of eleven independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations across California that were created to be a free resource for caregivers in the state of California. We would love to connect the family caregiver in your life with their local Center, where they can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer questions, and explain how they can best support the caregiver in your life.

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