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The holiday season can be a special time for fellowship with family and friends, enjoying the festivities, shopping for gifts and baking treats. Yet, holiday preparations can be challenging for the 65 million family caregivers in the United States. Previous traditions may no longer fit with current realities. By planning ahead, family caregivers can reduce the stress and frenzy of the holiday season, and make celebrations more enjoyable. Here are some suggestions for “lightening the load.”

If traveling is complicated due to mobility issues or other concerns, consider inviting family and friends to the home of the care receiver, so he or she will be more comfortable. If some relatives are visiting for the first time in a while, it can reduce stress for everyone by giving them a call or sending an email before the visit to prepare them for any significant changes. Your loved one might have trouble following conversations or get overwhelmed by larger gatherings. If family and friends know that one-on-one conversations are best, or that they need to give Dad more time to finish his thoughts, the visit will go more smoothly.

Also, if late afternoon confusion or tiredness is a concern, think about having celebrations earlier in the day, or keep the room well-lit. Multiple, small gatherings that are shorter in duration may be best for someone with memory loss, or with limited endurance.

For food and refreshments, suggest a potluck meal, or ask guests to take responsibility for preparing the meal. Using festive paper plates and cups can help reduce cleanup time.

Start new traditions by building on the old, and make adjustments as needed. For example, Mom might not be able to follow recipes anymore, but she can help roll out the cookie dough, wrap simple packages, set the table, or decorate the house. Try to keep it simple and enjoy the moments. Together you can open and read the holiday cards, look at family photographs, or listen to favorite music.

Try to maintain the usual routine during the holiday season as much as possible. Regular sleep schedule, healthy diet (minimizing caffeine, alcohol and sweets) and exercise is important for both the caregiver and care recipient. If using in-home services or other supports, such as an adult day health program, continue to utilize the services during the holidays. Having structure and meaningful activities throughout the day is important for quality of life, and adult day programs can provide essential respite for caregivers.

For family caregivers who wish to participate in gift-giving, consider giving one gift per family, ordering purchases online and having them delivered, or asking a neighbor or friend to help with shopping.

Also, the gift of love, or the gift of your time, may be the best you could offer. Reserving conversation time with a friend or promising to attend a grandchild’s school play, can be special for both you and the people you care about.

Finally, ask for help and accept help when it is offered. Make a list of ideas ahead of time so that when someone asks, “What can I do to help?” you are prepared with specifics. Some examples of great gift ideas include asking for research on local home care agencies, comfortable and easy to put on clothes, frozen prepared foods, an IOU for caregiving that provides respite, a trip to the beauty or barber shop for your care receiver, or an offer to run errands, like occasional grocery shopping. Accepting these gifts can help you stay healthy, so you can enjoy the holidays, and continue to care for your loved one.

Visit caregiver.org, alz.org, or caregiveraction.org for more information about family caregiver resources and support.

Laura Vanderhill, MHA, LSW, is the director of development/social services at Cooperative Elder Services, Adult Day Health Centers. For information, visit www.elderdayservices.com.