Family Caregiving and the Holidays

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, both of you. Thanks for joining us today. The holidays are such a mix of joy, expectations, pressure, and emotions high and low. For caregivers, these feelings are amplified, aren't they?

MINTZ:
The holidays are a particularly difficult time, because there's added pressure. We're changing our routines and it brings a lot of issues to the top of our minds. For those people who haven't seen their parents for a while, the holidays are a good time to take stock of what's going on and be alert to changes that suggest they might need help.

SWANSON:
In caregiving for somebody with an advanced illness, the advanced illness creates a number of losses as the illness progresses. Holiday times are a time when we have a lot of expectations and we might be surprised by feelings of grief as we become aware of some of these losses.

MINTZ:
At NFCA we often talk about perpetual grief as something family caregivers often experience as a loved one's illness progresses or a disability becomes more pronounced. At the holidays, as we think back on the years past, it can be a reminder of the losses experienced during that year. But the holidays are supposed to be a happy time, and we need to find joy in the moment and use the opportunity of family being together to reach out for the help we so sorely need.

MODERATOR:
Is it a good idea to get some extra help during this time of year? Or does that just cause confusion?

MINTZ:
That's a very personal issue that everyone needs to assess for themselves. If you find yourself more stressed and doing more, that indeed might be a time to reach out. But also recognize that everyone else is really busy then, too, and so it might also be a time when it's harder to get assistance.

SWANSON:
If you've been a caregiver for a while you're starting this holiday season with a physical and emotional deficit. It's important to plan for that as we begin plans and preparations for upcoming holidays.

When we talk about getting help, I think there are really two types of help to discuss: One is help with practical issues, the other is just getting help and maintaining our help systems -- those people who provide comfort, support and assistance for us.

MINTZ:
The holidays, of course, mean presents, and what a perfect time to think about presents that would help you feel better, renew your energy and strength and act as a warm blanket of comfort. One of the things that's always on my holiday list as a family caregiver is a gift certificate for a massage. I know that taking care of myself and staying healthy is the best present I can give my husband, who I care for.

"I think it would be important to discuss opportunities to reevaluate family traditions and try some new things, rather than try and do everything the way we used to and experience frustration."


MEMBER QUESTION:
This is the first holiday season when my mother is not the leader of the celebrations. We always all went to her home. I am caring for her in my home. The whole family feels like everything is upside down. What can I do to help everyone, especially my mom?

SWANSON:
I think certainly one of the important things as holiday times arrive is to give ourselves permission to reevaluate some of our traditions, especially family traditions, because they permeate so much of our time and the activities that we do during the holidays. I think it would be important to discuss openly with all family members opportunities to reevaluate family traditions and try some new things, rather than try and do everything the way we used to and experience frustration.

MINTZ:
On the lighter side, I'd say congratulations; you are now the adult. A torch has been passed to the next generation. As the maker of the turkey, you have an opportunity to put your own stamp on the celebration and give your mom a break.

MEMBER QUESTION:
For someone homebound, what are some good ways to bring the holidays to them, so they don't feel left out of the festivities?

MINTZ:
I suggest to friends and family that they call, come by, if they can, and create a small celebration right there. I'd also suggest decorating the house, playing Christmas music, if that's the holiday that's being celebrated, and have kids around, if the person being cared for can handle that. Kids are integral to holidays, in my mind. Their joy and anticipation can lighten all of us.

SWANSON:
If you can plan some simple activities that the care receiver is able to participate in, that would also add to their involvement.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am so tired from the "normal" activities of being a caregiver that I am afraid I don't have extra energy to make a celebration at home. What do you suggest?

MINTZ:
I suggest listening to your body and your spirit, and don't do extra work, but rather let others know how much you would appreciate it if they could bring the holidays to you.

SWANSON:
An important rule of thumb is that there is no right or wrong way to do things, even for family traditions. So you want to think not only just the meal preparation, but you also want to think about other activities that are preparation of holidays. You might consider simpler ways to give gifts and spend less time shopping, because that can be very exhausting. Keep your decorations simple, and maybe pare down or cut down the list of greeting cards you might send.

MODERATOR:
Playing holiday music on the radio doesn't take energy but adds a festive air.

SWANSON:
I think one of the risks that many people have at holiday times is they are tempted to cut back activities, and the ones they choose may not be the ones best for them. They may choose to cut back on their support group meeting or cut back on writing in their journal or taking time to get some exercise, some short walks. All those are very important to be able to maintain through the holidays.




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