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Many of us at RITfrom students to faculty, administrators and stafflook forward to the holidays, anticipating annual family gatherings and celebrations. However, behind the "holiday glow," multiple demands of family life can cause increased feelings of stress. This is particularly true for caregiversadults who take care of an elderly family member. Though the demands and responsibilities of caregiving can be daunting at any time of year, the stress seems to soar during the holiday season.
The holidays are a time when many of us reflect on past memories. For families caring for an elderly parent, these reflections often remind them of the losses the older person is experiencing. This may include memory loss such as the case of people with Alzheimer's disease and other related dementias. Functional losses which require assistance with daily activities like walking and toileting also occur with some frail, elderly individuals. And older people who have increased dependency on others tend to become self-absorbed and less engaged in the needs and wants of others. Reminiscing also reminds caregivers of the loss they may be facing in the quality of their personal relationship with the older person. These losses only heighten the stress that family caregivers experience during holidays.
Increased family tensions among adult siblings who come together for holidays can also add stress to the family caregiver. Often, long-forgotten conflicts resurface. Conflicts in family expectations of who should do what is common for many families. If these conflicts are left to fester, resentments build. Families tend to avoid discussing or resolving these conflicts, which adds to the stress caregivers report feeling during the holidays.
Another point to consider, family caregivers are typically women who find themselves balancing their lives between work demands and family responsibilities. Serving as family caregiver to an elderly parent or in-law can easily upset this balance if the stress involved is not recognized.
We may see ourselves or those dear to us in holiday stress as caregivers. To help reduce the stress, here are a few tips to consider.
- Set realistic limits for yourself; what is your "yes" worth if you never say "no."
- If the elderly person has a dementia, it helps to avoid overly stimulated environments, which add to their anxiety and your stress level.
- Let other family members know how they can be helpful; it's important not to assume that they know what help you need.
- If including the elderly person in large family gatherings creates additional work and stress for you, consider other alternatives such as suggesting each family spend quality individual time with the parent or grandparent.
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