Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Help for Family Caregivers ...

Family caregivers spend endless time and energy caring for loved ones who are ill, disabled or frail and are often unable to participate in the usual traditions and activities of the season. Thoughtful assistance and gifts from those who love them can make all the difference to the quality of their holidays.

Here are some ways you can help the family caregivers in your life:

1. Ask what's needed or wanted before you shop, bake or make plans. Every caregiving situation is different and the needs of each caregiver are different as well. I remember receiving several lovely packets of bath salts and oils one Christmas while caring for my husband. They would have been wonderful to use had we had a bathtub!

2. Consider that while the gift of an afternoon's concert, play or special event might be much appreciated, it needs to come with the second gift of someone qualified to stay with the care recipient so the ticket can be used.

3. Gifts of food can bring real relief from the monotony and fatigue of cooking, but remember to ask, first, regarding personal preferences, allergies and dietary restrictions. We frequently passed on to others casseroles whose salt content was too high for my husband to eat. (Including a copy of the recipe can help to reduce anxiety in this regard.)

4. Try to avoid gifts that need assembling, that are outside the caregiver's previous experience or that are very complicated (technological devices with multiple functions) unless the caregiver has asked for it, specifically. (Impaired cognitive function is a hallmark of caregiver stress and most caregivers find it hard enough to remember where they put their keys , let alone how a new device works.)

5. Avoid giving anything that will need special care - this includes anything from a delicate plant to "a nice pet to keep you company". Now is not the time to inadvertently add to the caregiver's burden.

6. Consider safety in all gift giving. eg No glass figurines, knife sets, or barbecue lighters for caregivers of children with aggressive or impulsive behavioural disorders, unless there is safe storage space that is out of sight.

7. Consult with the caregiver before buying gifts of perfume or other scented materials that might aggravate allergies or respiratory conditions. (Their own or that of the care recipient.)

8. Consider gifts of your time and presence - "gift certificates" for mowing the lawn or shovelling the walks on a regular basis or for sitting with the care recipient so the caregiver can get out for errands or respite, or for short biweekly or monthly visits for a chat and support. (But be sure that you can follow through with whatever you promise.)

9. Offer to buy and put up the Christmas tree or other decorations - but be sensitive to the loss involved in changing a holiday tradition. Check at each stage in the process to see if that step is something that the caregiver would rather do alone. Perhaps you could buy and set up the tree and lights and then leave the decorating to them or perhaps they will want you to do the whole job. Just keep asking.

10. Offer transportation to shopping malls or to doctors appointments. Return library books or DVD's.

11. Offer to do the caregiver's holiday shopping or wrapping or to help them to navigate shopping on the internet.

12. Talk about plans for holiday dinners well in advance. But be prepared to change plans at the last moment if the care recipient is ill or the caregiver is too tired. Ask what will make life easiest for the caregiver - to have you make and deliver a meal on plates then leave, to eat altogether at your house or theirs, to have a pot luck or share the cooking, to go out for a meal?

13. If you're "going home for Christmas", ask if it would be easier if you stayed in a nearby hotel.

These are just a few possibilities. Please add your own ideas to the list. The important thing is to be thoughtful, empathic and accepting in the face of the caregiver's stress, indecisiveness and desire to hold on to the things that have meant the most to them.

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