Holiday expectations can change dramatically for someone who becomes a caregiver for a loved one. It can be difficult for those who are not caregivers to realize just how difficult the holidays can be for a caregiving household. While each caregiving situation is unique in some ways, there are also common factors that can make the situation easier more difficult.
The relationship between the caregiver and the person receiving care
If the person being cared for is a spouse, the caregiver is likely to be older and to have less help with caregiving, according to an AARP survey. In addition, the way in which the holidays are shared with an older spouse is fundamentally different than the way in which they are shared with an aging parent. While some people spend many of their holidays with a parent, it is much less common for spouses to celebrate holidays apart. Older couples have often spent a lifetime of holidays together. The shared memories of these holidays add a special layer of joy to each year’s celebration. However, they can also cause a deeper level of grief if the spouse is no longer able to participate in certain aspects of the holiday.
The type of impairment involved
When the person receiving care suffers from a physical impairment, the experience of the holiday can be very demanding for the caregiver. It can be difficult to travel and challenging to spend time in the home of a family member who lacks special medical equipment. This may be something as simple as needing a raised toilet seat and grab bars in the bathroom.
At the same time, hosting the holiday can be difficult, if not impossible, for the caregiver. The work of caregiving doesn’t stop for the holiday. This can leave little time or energy for cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc. There are ways around this in some cases. A caregiver can host a potluck instead of preparing an entire meal, for instance, or do shopping online, assuming this is they can afford it. Unfortunately, caregiving households are often forced to sacrifice a significant portion of their income, either in missed work, medical expenses to pay or costs for special dietary items.
Many of these same issues apply when the person receiving care is suffering from a mental impairment. While the job may not be as demanding from the perspective of physical strength, it can require constant vigilance, particularly if the person receiving care has full mobility. Income and entertaining are similarly affected. Visiting others may be just as difficult, if for different reasons. The person receiving care may become more easily disoriented when away from home or be unable to cope with strangers, noise or the emotions of the day. This can make it impossible for the caregiver, or the person receiving care, to relax and enjoy the celebration.
Of course, many caregivers have loved ones with both physical and mental impairments, making their own attempts to celebrate even more challenging. In some cases, the person receiving care may also have a terminal illness. In this case the holiday may either have enormous significance or be completely forgotten, depending on the circumstances.
The amount of support the caregiver receives from others
Another issue for caregivers is the amount of support and help they receive. This can be a year-round issue that takes on special significance at the holidays. Often the caregiver will have no holiday time away from the person receiving care. Sometimes this is a personal choice resulting from a desire to be with their loved one. Other times there may be no one willing and/or able, to help give them a break.
In some cases, there may not be any extended family members living. In other cases, family members may live too far away. Occasionally family members may believe that the caregiver has chosen his or her role and all of its consequences. If there has been controversy over long term care options, those who favored long term care may feel that they have no obligation to help the caregiver who has chosen to keep their loved one at home.
Whatever the circumstances, helping a caregiver during the holidays is an act of kindness that can make a difference for everyone involved: the person receiving care, the caregiver, and the person taking time out from their own holiday to pitch in so everyone gets a chance to celebrate.
Caregivers themselves can only do what their circumstances allow. However, it helps to realize that every person has limitations. Caregivers can ask for help, or even demand it. If they don’t receive it, their only options are to review their circumstances for available alternatives and then to simply do the best they can. Being a caregiver can be rewarding, but it is rarely easy.