Since I frequently teach classes and workshops on the stages and progression of dementia, I am well aware of the differences between dementia and normal aging. A young, healthy brain can hold eight pieces of information at once, but as we age, this number gradually decreases. At least for me, this number drops dramatically in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This past weekend, my children had fun pointing out all the ways I was showing early signs of dementia, like leaving my phone in the refrigerator and asking them the same question they just answered two minutes ago. I know this is due to the stress of the holidays, and it happens every year. I can’t imagine what it must be like to navigate the holidays while caring for a spouse or parent with physical and/or mental incapacities, especially since even regular days can be overwhelming. Caregivers should therefore be especially mindful of their stress levels during the holidays.
Amy Goyer, the author of AARP’s Juggling Work and Caregiving, emphasizes the importance of recognizing the signs of stress and burn out. When prolonged stress builds up, we are robbed of energy, and we can reach a point of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Emotional ups and downs, fatigue, and foggy thinking can be signs of caregiver burnout. Goyer advises focusing on what can be accomplished instead of what can’t, and to be appreciative of help rather than resenting those who aren’t supportive. Negative thinking actually activates your body’s stress response to steer the mind down the slippery slope of negative thinking.
Caregivers need to make self-care a priority during the holidays. It’s easy to overlook this during busy times, but that is when it is most important. Be sure to make time for exercise which can boost one’s mood. And if possible, try to limit sugary foods that can cause an energy and emotional crash when blood sugar plummets.
Also, remember that perfection is not the goal of the holidays. Scale back where you can and try to find a way to simplify celebrations while enjoying the spirit of the season. Perhaps putting up less decorations or preparing less food. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, not only with holiday preparations but with caregiving duties as well. Even if you normally don’t pay for help, consider doing so now. Even a few hours of assistance can be a huge relief. And if there are relatives who may criticize your decision to scale back or even your caregiving, limit or avoid your exposure to these toxic influences.
Above all find ways to relax and enjoy the holidays as best you can. And don’t just do it for yourself, do it for your loved one as well because you will be a happier, healthier caregiver.