The ghost of caregiving past: Holiday tips for caregivers.

The holidays can weigh heavier on a caregiver than the chains on Jacob Marley. And while this year does not have to be like the last, it’s not enough just to wish for it to be different. The good news is that you can learn from the past and plan for a better present and future.


People complain about having too much to do and so little time to do it in during the holidays – something caregivers could complain about all year long. Ideally, you should prioritize your day-to-day caregiving duties so that you take care first of the most important things and leave what can wait for later. The same applies to the holidays.

Holiday duties

Ask yourself:

·         Decorating home/tree

·         Managing budget

·         Having people over

·         Attending parties

·         Sending cards

·         Going to special events or services

·         Buying and wrapping gifts

·         Going on visits

·         Cleaning the house

·         Spending time with family

·         Can you do without it?

·         Would you like to do it differently?

·         Is a habit/ tradition/ obligation/ choice?

·         Is it a one-person job, or a multiple-person job?

·         Whose responsibility is it?

·         Do you enjoy it?


You shouldn’t have to feel obligated to do something merely because it is expected of you, or because it was a tradition back when the person you provide care for mentally and or physically well. Clearly, you have a lot more pressing business on your plate now. People will understand if you scale Christmas down – or even take a page out of Michael Scott’s book and cancel it altogether. And if they criticize you for lacking the ‘Christmas spirit,’ well, obviously they don’t care much for anyone other than themselves.

On the other hand, these activities can also offer a degree of reprieve from your caregiving duties. For instance, your loved one can help you decorate the tree and house, and having guests can be beneficial for a person with dementia – provided certain rules are followed (see below). Moreover, you shouldn’t feel guilty about going to parties and the like; as long as you can get someone to watch over your loved one, it will give you a chance to socialize and enjoy yourself.

Some rules for visits

·         Keep visits short.

·         Don’t overwhelm your loved one with too many people at the same time.

·         Encourage eye contact, body language.

·         Tell visitors they should not correct or argue with the person if he or she makes a mistake or remembers something incorrectly.

·         Limit questions, in particular those that entail choices.

·         Arrange visits for the times when your loved one is at his/her best.

Send a little extra in your holiday greetings

Regardless of what you decide to do and not these holidays, sending greeting cards remains a good idea, if only because it affords you a chance to remind – or inform – your friends and relatives of the condition of the person you care for. This can not only raise awareness but may also rally your family to help out when you need it most. Of course you don’t want to send the written equivalent of an accusatory finger – unless your goal is to fully alienate the rest of the world – nor do you want to convey the impression that you’re doing just fine by yourself – which you may not even if you think you are. Here is a sample that might strike a healthy balance:

I'm writing this to let you know how things are going over here. While we're looking forward to your visit, we thought it might be helpful if you understood our current situation before you arrive.  You may notice that (Mom, Dad) has changed since you last saw him/her. Among the changes you may notice are (list changes). I've enclosed a picture so you know how he/she looks now. Because he/she sometimes has problems remembering and thinking clearly, his/her behavior is a little unpredictable. Please understand that he/she may not remember you and may think you’re someone else. Please don't take this personally. He/she appreciates your being with us and so do I. Please treat him/her as you would any person. A smile and a gentle touch on his/her shoulder or hand will be much appreciated. I would ask that you call before you come to visit or when you're nearby so we can prepare for your arrival. Caregiving is difficult, and I'm doing the best I can. With your help and support, we can create a holiday that we'll never forget.

 Gifting outside the box

‘What do you give a person who has everything?’ is not a question usually ask in relation to caregivers. Nevertheless, people may be at a loss as to what to get you and your loved one. If that’s the case, lend them a hand with the following ideas:

·         Electric coffee or tea pots that turn off automatically after a short period of time.

·         Large desk calendars to mount on the wall.

·         Pill organizers.

·         Photo albums with names and dates next to each picture.

·         Registration in the Medic Alert®/Safe Return Program.

·         Simple-to-manage clothing (tube socks, easy on sweatshirts, tennis shoes with Velcro closings).

·         Gift certificates for haircuts and manicures.

·         Older music.

·         Tapes of sermons or church services.

·         Plus animals.

·         Tickets to a musical event or circus

·         Trip to a shopping mall and lunch.

·         Visit to the local senior center to participate in activities.

·         Bird feeders.

·         Tapes of bird songs.

·         Gift certificates to adult day services.

And why not, gifts for you as well:

·         A day at a spa.

·         Gift card for movie rentals.

·         Gift certificate for a clothing boutique.

·         Coupon good for an entire day off from caregiving duties -

·         Gift certificate for a bookstore or online bookseller.

·         Gift certificate to your favorite music/movie store.

·         A coupon good for a night out on the town, including favorite restaurant, along with someone to watch over your loved one.

·         An offer to do household chores, grocery shopping.


Giving is still better than receiving, though. You can still do some shopping and get your friends and relatives a little something, whether they deserve it or not – if the latter, it may at the very least be a subtle way of guilt tripping them, as opposed to a direct way, which we already discussed won’t do.

·         Shop online whenever you can. Not only can you save time that you would otherwise spend in crowded malls, but you may even save money as well. And remember that you can (ad) shop medical supplies online at Discount Medical Supplies (ad).

·         Buy a certain gift in bulk so that you can give to as many people as possible – they should understand that a caregiver doesn’t have a lot of time to personalize gifts. And everybody could use a mini-massager.

·         If you do venture into the outside world to do your shopping, make a list of exactly what you need to save time and prevent bouts of oniomania.

Preparing the person who you care for

Your loved one may get lost in the shuffle of the holidays, so you might want to pay him/her extra attention. On the one hand, you should strive to maintain a daily schedule that’s as close to what the person is used to do the rest of the year as possible. But on the other, you don’t want him/her to be oblivious to the season. The holidays may bring good memories of times past, and the religious aspect may also strike a chord with them. Anything that can help them jog their memories, e.g. music, food, religious services, etc. – of which there are many instances closely associated with the holidays – should be a welcome addition.

Related: What is Respite Care for Caregivers?