FREDERICK, Md. — Presents. That’s one piece of advice Karen Stobbe has for fellow caregivers this holiday season.
Stobbe is an improv actor who cared for both of her parents with Alzheimer’s disease. At Stobbe’s home, the rule is that people get presents if they’re younger than 18 or older than 80.
For families and caregivers, the holiday period can bring more than Christmas carols and cookies. It can bring added stress for both the caregiver and the loved one.
It can be overwhelming for the loved one. They can have trouble hearing, and a crowd of people in the house can sound deafening. Stobbe recommends watching to see if a loved one is getting upset and ask what they need. There’s usually a reason they are upset.
“The main thing to me is to not get wrapped up in our world and make sure someone is there with them,” Stobbe said.
Stobbe spoke at a dementia conference in Frederick County in November, held by the Alzheimer’s Association, where she talked about the holidays and being a caregiver. One tip she has for caregivers during the holidays is to make sure someone is always with a relative with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
“You get kind of wrapped up with visiting each other,” Stobbe said. “And someone with Alzheimer’s can’t visit like we do.”
Caregiver Debra Blank said that while the holidays are a time for family gatherings, it is also important to understand that a large group can be hard. Grandkids can be loud and overwhelming. Even pets contribute to the rising amount of noise.
Blank said that during the holidays, she has noticed that lights and trees can be as problematic as crowds. Sometimes a loved one gets anxious and needs to be in a room alone so they can decompress.
The holiday period can also be the time where children realize something is wrong with their parents. They are visiting Mom and Dad, which could be the first time in months.
“When you notice it, that’s the time when you need to get that diagnosis,” Stobbe said.
That’s often when professional caregivers, like Blank, who works at Right at Home, are hired. Like Stobbe, Blank also took care of her mother until her death.
Blank also works as a caregiver at Hospice of Frederick County, where some may be experiencing their last holidays. Blank said that she encourages having the family together and creating a lot of joy.
“It makes them happy,” Blank said. “And family can reassure them that everything is OK. Everything is going to be OK.”
At Hospice of Frederick County, staff caregivers try to bring extra joy, including having carolers, Executive Director Carlos Graveran said. Staff members understand that for families, it is a period with a lot of change, and they do their best to be supportive.
Each patient and family is different, so the hospice works to tailor experiences. There is an awareness that it is likely the last holiday season. Bereavement Services Coordinator Kaili van Waveren recommends trying to make the best memories during visits.
Self-care for caregivers
The holiday period can also be a difficult time for those tasked with caregiving. Blank recommends that family caregivers hire someone to take some of the responsibilities, if the family can afford it. That allows the family to have some time to themselves or time as just family members.
Family caregivers are often stressed during the holidays, Blank said, which means they might have trouble enjoying it themselves. People need to take time for themselves, she said, adding that it can be difficult to get away. That time alone, whether it is doing last-minute holiday shopping or just getting some alone time, can help the person feel re-energized.
It can be difficult for professional caregivers as well. Blank said it is important that they remember not to bring their work home with them, so that they too can enjoy the holidays.