For most of us, the holidays will be different this year. For family caregivers, there are extra challenges as we struggle to make the season feel special for loved ones who may be isolated and grieving the loss of the usual traditions.
In a recent survey of caregivers by Care.com, 85 percent of respondents named the holidays as the primary time of year when their family comes together with an older loved one. More than 2 in 5 say they will not be able to see their care recipient in person this holiday season.
Many care recipients may feel depressed or abandoned, or have difficulty understanding the changes due to cognitive issues. That makes it all the more important for us to make the holidays as full of meaning and connection as possible for our loved ones, within the limits of safety precautions.
The good news is, there's no need to cancel the holidays this year — just make them unique! There are lots of ways to help ensure the 2020 holidays still bring comfort and joy.
Easing the adjustment
As caregivers, we need to balance our loved ones’ mental and physical health, keeping them safe while also keeping them connected. Nearly half of family caregivers say the pandemic has had a negative effect on their care recipient's mental health, and three-quarters worry about the risk of COVID-19 exposure at holiday get-togethers, according to a new AARP report on how COVID-19 is affecting holiday plans.
While 62 percent of caregivers plan to get together with family at some point during the season, many of those gatherings will be smaller, shorter and devoid of physical contact, the AARP survey found.
"I am OK with a year off from hosting massive gatherings,” says Renee Riley, a longtime caregiver for multiple family members in Columbus, Ohio, “but I worry about family members who live alone and face such loneliness.”
Start by acknowledging that things are different, and validate whatever your loved ones are feeling, whether you agree or not. It's OK for them, and you, to feel sad, angry, disappointed or even relieved that some holiday traditions will be canceled or amended. Reassure loved ones that their health and safety are everyone's top priority.
But remember, too, that holiday activities help bring us out of our everyday lives, lifting moods and sparking good memories and joy. So, try to focus this year on the holiday things you can and will do rather than those you can't or won't do.
Making the season feel special
It's a complicated challenge. “Regardless of how much they ‘understand,’ traditions held for years will be broken this year,” says Roberto Quinones of Tysons Corner, Virginia, a long-distance caregiver for his parents, who live in New York City. “How can we keep the positive outlook with remote parents we're not able to visit?”