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How can family caregivers prepare for the holidays?

The holidays can be an extremely stressful time for caregivers. Insensitive and hard to deal with family members can be tricky in any situation, but the issue is compounded as a caregiver. To help you get by, avoid burnout, and actually enjoy the holidays with as little stress as possible, it’s helpful to prepare for the season ahead of time. In this article, we are going to explore how family caregivers can prepare for and enjoy the most of the holiday season.

Prepare for Shock

If you’re caring for an aging or ailing adult, it’s important to recognize that any family members who have not seen the loved one in your care recently may be surprised by their appearance or behavior. If they’ve declined significantly over the past year, it may actually cause a shock. This shock can be hard for them to hide, so preparing them ahead of time can avoid some awkward encounters. We suggest sending an email with recent photos of your loved one to everyone you expect to be in attendance that may be affected by their changes. This can be a loving way to give notice and avoid the shock in the moment.

This blog post has kindly put together an email template you can customize to help you with this process.

Examples of things to include in this email beyond a picture include:

  • If there has been a significant gain or loss of weight

  • Unpredictable behavior tendencies

  • Problems with incontinence

  • The need for assistive technology like a wheelchair or a walker

  • If your loved one may struggle to recognize people or have trouble holding conversation

  • Etc.

Set boundaries

In a topsy-turvy world like the one we are experiencing through the second year of this pandemic, it’s important to be realistic about what is possible for your loved one as well as what is safe for them. It is perfectly OK to set some boundaries on the events you plan to host or attend.

Setting boundaries could look like:

  • Setting a designated time to leave

  • Limiting the number of events you attend

  • Limiting the people who interact with your loved one (like children, for example)

  • Etc.

Setting these limits and communicating them is a great way to ensure that everyone’s expectations are met because you have briefed them about what to expect. This is a great way to avoid unnecessary guilt, disappointment, or feeling like you’re letting someone down.

Prepare the loved one in your care

If the loved one in your care is struggling with memory, for example, it may be helpful to tell them stories and share photos about the people who are coming to the holiday event. This may help them remember each person or at least feel more at ease in their presence.

Limit activities

The holidays are a time of immense pressure whether or not you are a caregiver. But that pressure can be overwhelming when you’re also handling care. Keep the holiday celebrations to a level that feels natural and comfortable for you. Maybe stick to traditions that are simple, like watching holiday movies, playing comforting holiday music, and putting out a few intentional and sentimental decorations.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it all. Offer yourself grace and recognize that your loved one cares only about spending time with the ones they love, not “doing it all right.”

Create a plan for visitors

During the holiday season, the rest of your friends and family may want to visit your loved one. It’s OK to encourage this while setting boundaries to make it easier for everyone. For example, you can ask that everyone calls ahead to schedule a time to come by. You can also arrange the holiday celebration schedule around your loved ones' energy levels. Maybe that means having a celebratory lunch instead of dinner, for example.

Enjoy the season

If any part of the holiday preparation or celebration feels too overwhelming, that may be a sign to take it down a notch. The loved one in your care is not looking for perfection, they are looking for joy in this season. Make your goal to cut back until you feel you can enjoy the season yourself.

Some general tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to say no

  • Cut out anything that feels unnecessary or like it is not bringing joy

  • Avoid hanging decorations with tacks and hooks that could be sharp and opt for ribbons or yarn instead

  • Make sure all pathways stay clear of wires and decorations

  • Accept help when it’s offered from family and friends

  • Pay attention to your loved ones energy levels and don’t be afraid to cut visits short in response

  • Avoid decorations that blink or flash (or look edible) as those can be disorienting

  • Take breaks, whether that is through respite care or just slowing down. It’s OK to take a break

Closing Thoughts

The holidays are stressful and may feel daunting, but do what you can and don’t be afraid to say no to what you can’t. A little preparation can go a long way and ensuring that you enjoy this holiday season.

​​We invite you to check out our free resources for family caregivers by clicking here or call us at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you through and beyond the holiday season.


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