Feature Archive

Caregiving: Help for the Holidays

What every caregiver needs to know for a smooth holiday season.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

On top of the cookie baking, decoration hanging, eggnog beating, and hunting for presents -- if you are responsible for the care of another person, the holidays can present some special challenges.

Caregiving, of course, is not confined to taking care of a person in the home setting. "Caregiving is caregiving," Gary Barg, author of The Fearless Caregiver: How to Get the Best Care for Your Loved One and Still Have a Life of Your Own, tells WebMD. "Caregiving is about 15% dealing with the disease or disorder and the rest about dealing with the stress."

One of the biggest misnomers, he says, is that if your loved one is in a facility, you are no longer a caregiver. "You are!" he insists. Besides being a writer and editor for Caregiver magazine, Barg has cared for several disabled relatives over extended periods.

De-stressing the Home Setting

If someone in the house is in a wheelchair, unsteady on his or her feet, or cannot make good judgments or be left alone, it is important to keep decorations low-key.

  • "Don't move the furniture around," advises Barg.

  • Be sure cords aren't stretched all over the place or presents piled in the passageways.

  • Make sure priceless heirlooms are safe and out of the way.

  • Blinking lights can confuse some people.

    "Visitors should be invited one at a time [in the case of demented loved ones]," Myron Weiner, MD, professor of psychiatry and of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, tells WebMD. "Maybe a son, daughter-in-law, and one quiet child at a time is alright." He doesn't recommend the whole extended family descend, however. "This can make some patients agitated or withdrawn," he says.

    The Alzheimer's Association of Los Angeles recommends forewarning relatives about a loved one's present condition, perhaps with a letter saying the person has changed, has problems thinking clearly, and will respond well to a warm touch.

    "I don't think you need to do that," Weiner responds. In fact, he says, people with Alzheimer's tend to preserve their social graces, making bland and appropriate remarks. "People who don't see the person often may not even think there is that much wrong," he says.

    You don't need to make a big deal of it. If there is a toileting accident, take care of it as you normally would. "And keep visits short," Weiner says. "Two hours, perhaps, but not five hours."