Caregiver holiday stress occurs often during the Christmas season. I gotta tell ya, being a dementia caregiver is tough in the first place, but being a dementia caregiver for my mom during Christmas was even tougher. Particularly when it came to the gift-giving aspect of the holidays.
holiday season dementia caregiving reality
The section below is a large part of what contributed to caregiver holiday stress for me. These are questions and little snippets of conversations that Mom and I would have over the course of the holiday season. I put the questions in multiple times to show you reality. That’s what it’s like. It was not uncommon to get the questions multiple times a day, if not in an hour.
Answering “What did I get _____?”
Reassuring Mom that we already bought a present for _____ when she panicked and said “Ahh, I haven’t bought a gift for _____.”
Telling Mom that ____’s gift was already wrapped and under the tree and taking her to see it under the tree.
Answering “Did I get anything for _____?”
Mom remarking as she looked through the sales advertisements that we needed to go buy that for _____ (when she had already wrapped a present for that person.) I thought having Mom wrap presents would kind of help her remember. It didn’t.
Mom was really good at wrapping packages and making fantastic bows. That was something she could easily do and she hadn’t forgotten how to do it yet, so I had her wrap as many as she had the attention span for. In retrospect, I probably should have just kept it to maybe one package at a time. Wrapping more than one got her more confused!
Answering “What did I get ______?” again.
I kept a list of what present was bought for whom only to have Mom throw it away. I had left it on the table so she could easily access it.
In case you’re wondering, the free printable is NOT the list I kept for Mom to use. Her list was way more simple.
While out shopping, wondering when or if Mom was suddenly going to stop and ask about the little one at home and who’s watching it. (There was no little one at home.)
Buying my own present, wrapping it, and telling Mom on Christmas morning that the gift was from her.
Driving my 85-year-old mother to her son’s house 2 hours away for Christmas only to have her panic and ask where’s the baby and want to go back home because she was concerned that no one was looking after the little one. (Where’s the baby and who is taking care of the little one were frequent questions/concerns that Mom had.)
Answering “What did I get ____?” again.
Wondering why my siblings couldn’t have offered to take her gift shopping or spent more time with her instead of making her come to them.
Seeing the vacant look on her face while sitting at my brother’s house. (I think maybe she was trying to figure out where she was and who everybody was.)
Addressing Christmas cards for Mom because she had gotten to the point where she had difficulty writing and it was easier for her to just sign her name.
She still enjoyed listening to Christmas carols but you couldn’t turn the music up very loud as she became more sensitive to loud noises.
The Loved One's Perspective
I wish I had known then what I know now about dementia and Alzheimer’s. As difficult as it was for me as the caregiver, I can’t imagine what the holiday season was like for Mom. What was going through her head at the time? What was she thinking? Was she too overwhelmed with the gift buying?
I heard this comment made when I was first learning about Alzheimer’s – You have to live in their world because they can’t live in your world. I did not make the effort to “live in Mom’s world” during the Christmas season. Perhaps if I had, then maybe the holiday season wouldn’t have been so stressful on my end.
How to make the season easier on yourself and your loved one
You don’t have to decorate the whole house, plan, shop and host a family mean, decorate a big tree. Here’s K.I.S.S. again that I have referred to before. Keep it simple.
Try to get family members to help you with tasks.
Don’t plan a lot in one single day.
Plan activities for when your loved one is most alert or active.
Have somewhere quiet for your loved one to go to when or if he/she feels overwhelmed.
Keep your own self-care in mind. You should have time off too. Accept holiday invitations as long as you have someone who steps in to give you some respite time.
Be willing to be flexible and to try something different. You don’t have to do the same thing you did last year or the year before.
Don't be like me
So don’t be like me and expect your loved one to live in your world cuz that isn’t happening any longer. Use your loved one to gauge what works and what doesn’t work and adjust.