Caregiving During the Holidays: Adjusting Expectations

Goldie Katz and her son-in-law at the Herndon Harbor Adult Day Health Care Center.

The holidays can be stressful for most of us with busy schedules and high expectations for decorating, family visits, shopping and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, for caregivers of older family members and those with disabilities, keeping family traditions alive can often contribute to an already stressful situation. But there are steps you can take to help you and your loved ones get through the holiday season.

“People have Norman Rockwell-esque pictures in their minds of the perfect holiday. For caregivers already doing so much…there’s a lot to do in a very compressed time. You need to adapt.”Kristin Martin, Geriatric Case Manager for ElderLink

Listen for more advice from Martin on the Fairfax 50+ Podcast:


Taking An Inventory

Taking an inventory of what needs, or doesn’t need to be done, can help you and your family adjust expectations of what can be done with your caregiving responsibilities. Here are a few questions to help you take an inventory of your typical holiday activities and to determine which ones are still manageable:

  • Would the holidays be the same without this activity?
  • Why do you do the activity? Do you enjoy it or do you feel obligated to do it?
  • Can this activity be adapted or simplified? For instance, instead of baking a variety of treats, select the family favorite or purchase baked goods.
  • Could you adjust the role you play in this activity? While you may still want to host the holiday meal, consider delegating to your guests to bring dishes for the meal.

“The goal is to be flexible enough to accept that things do not need to be done exactly the same way each year,” said Martin. She encourages caregivers to discuss your inventory with the friends and family that are part of your holiday celebration. “It is important that other people have an understanding of your caregiving situation, so they can adjust their expectations of what you can do.”


Steps to Make the Holidays Easier 

Whether you have plans to host during the holidays, or travel away from home with your loved one, here a few things to consider to make it easier for both of you:

  • Appoint another family member or friend to periodically check in with your loved one to make sure they are doing okay and are comfortable.
  • Be mindful of issues necessary to maintain the comfort and well being of the person you are caring for – consider limiting the number of activities.
  • Give your loved one a task so they can feel they are contributing to the celebration.
  • Avoid possible overstimulation by designating a quiet spot to provide a little break from the excitement, or even take a quick nap to recharge.
  • Consider starting a new holiday tradition that is more adapted to your current lifestyle. For instance, to ease the stress with holiday shopping, maybe consider “themed” gift giving for your loved ones – everyone gets a book, a food item, and an article of clothing.




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