How to Be a Better Caregiver This Holiday Season

This article was previously published in the Perspectives section of Inside INdiana Business.

By Rachel Burianek
Certified Nursing Assistant, Aspen Trace Senior Living

Caregiving is a challenge any time of the year, but the holidays can be particularly difficult. It’s a busy season filled with family activities that can take a toll on your older loved ones, physically and mentally. I’d like to offer my perspective as a Certified Nursing Assistant to help you care for them this winter and make the season bright. Here are some handy tips for the holidays!

Tweak your traditions. If your loved ones aren’t able to move around as easily as they used to, come up with some new holiday activities in which they can stay seated and comfortable. Instead of walking down the street and caroling door to door, maybe drive around the neighborhood to marvel at lights and decorations. You could also have a holiday movie marathon or dig out your family’s old home movies and photo albums.

Prepare your relatives. Make sure everyone is on the same wavelength and understands your older loved ones’ current condition. They may not have seen them in a long time, so they should be aware of and prepared for changes due to memory loss, physical impairment, etc. But don’t discourage relatives from interacting with older family members. Let them know how they can still engage with them — through making crafts, reading holiday cards, looking at family photos, listening to music. Studies show that music is particularly helpful for seniors with anxiety and dementia.

Be colorful. Seniors with dementia tend to have difficulty visually differentiating things. Blandly colored holiday meals, such as turkey and mashed potatoes, will blend together on a similarly plain plate. Make those meals stand out with bright, colorful dishes that will contrast with the food items on them.

On another food note: When families are having trouble getting their older relatives to eat a meal, I tell them to feed them a sweet or salty snack first. Taste buds are much less sensitive as we age, and the salty and sweet receptors are the most sensitive for seniors.

Take a soft approach. Be sure not to sneak up on your older loved ones. Always face them from the front and approach slowly and calmly. And remember not to hover over them as well; bend down to their eye level. When they are up and about, stand by their side so they feel safe and supported.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You won’t be able to care for your loved ones if you’re burnt out. During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, don’t forget to carve out some time to rest and relax. Connect and vent with other caregivers via message boards or social media groups. Remember that you’re not in this alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you follow these few tips, you’re more likely to have an even better time with your family this holiday season. I wish you happy holidays and good tidings as you continue your caregiving journey.

Rachel Burianek is a Certified Nursing Assistant at Aspen Trace Senior Living, one of CarDon & Associates’ senior living communities located in Greenwood. This year, she received the Assisted Living Caregiver of the Year Award from the National Association of Health Care Assistants.