Caregivers’ Corner: Surviving Family Celebrations

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2014 11:15

Joan Jackson‘Tis the season for family caregivers to make sure their festivity survival plan is firmly in place.

Special events, whether a holiday gathering, graduation, birthday or even a get-together with old friends, can pose daunting challenges when you care for a loved one with dementia or any debilitating chronic illness.

Your ailing husband, wife, mom or dad can be swiftly and painfully overwhelmed by the expectations and exuberance of celebrations.

For even the most extroverted, the chatter of many voices, laughter, music and a swirl of activity can be impossible to follow. It can rapidly become tiring, confusing, frustrating or even terrifying. Reactions can range from anger and acting out to fear, total confusion and tears.

A reminder: Keep things small, simple and as close to routine as possible when celebrating with anyone who has memory loss or other debilitating conditions.

If you must travel to an event, take the trip in gentle stages. Bring one or two familiar comforts from home – Dad’s favorite pillow and baseball cap or your wife’s beloved afghan – to provide an anchor in an unfamiliar place.

If your husband has substantial memory loss, wait until the last minute to talk to him about the trip or celebration, saving him (and you) days of worry, confusion and questions.

If the party is at your home, make sure Mom has a safe and quiet space to sit. It might be a sheltered corner or a separate room. Encourage family members or friends to visit one or two at a time.

Be aware that Granddad may not be able to recognize even favorite family members in the confusion. “Papa, here’s your grandson Michael,” is kinder than “Guess who this is?”

If you’re away from home, have an escape plan in mind, just in case you need one. Recruit your most savvy child ahead of time to help move Dad out of the celebration and into a quiet room or the car to drive home.

If you’re the host and want to spend time with guests, make arrangements for a person you trust, perhaps even a professional caregiver, to take your wife to her room for a nap or a break when she needs to rest.

If you’ve always been the host and are on overload this year, pass the event-planning baton to a sister, son or cousin, and offer to bring the salad.

Family members may have a difficult time with simplifying traditions. If Dad has always barbecued his secret special ribs or Mom has always conducted the ritual family holiday games, you may find yourself dealing with a grown child’s or sibling’s denial, grief and disappointment.

It’s helpful to give them a heads-up letter, call or e-mail well before the event, and be prepared to hold your ground if you’re making big changes. “This is what we need to do this year,” can be repeated and repeated.

And, if you’re flat-out tired and don’t feel like celebrating at all, it’s okay to say, “Sorry, we have to pass this year.”

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (588-1835), whose services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2014 11:15
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet

Let me tell you a sad story. There are no comments yet, but yours can be the first!

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*