No matter how we celebrate the holidays, it is not uncommon for the excitement of the season to result in higher than normal stress levels. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, there are more than 65 million family caregivers in the U.S. These family members, who are caregivers for their aging spouses or loved ones, are faced with an especially unique set of responsibilities, which can often be very stressful. InnovAge – a nonprofit organization that serves as the comprehensive resource for Colorado’s aging population – encourages caregivers to be aware of these stresses, to be mindful of any warning signs and to take positive steps for a happier, more joyful holiday with family and friends.
Signs that a Caregiver is Experiencing Holiday Stress
According to Tracy Fehr, RN, BSN, clinical director of InnovAge Johnson Adult Day Program – an InnovAge program for dementia care – the most common signs of high stress levels may not be communicated verbally, especially when the individual is in a position of caring for an older adult. “The holiday season tends to amplify our emotions, which can create anxiety, especially when dealing with elderly loved ones,” said Fehr. “The pressure to make things feel the same as they’ve always been could make us reluctant to vocalize our frustrations to others.” According to InnovAge, there are three signs that may indicate an individual is having difficulty managing care-giving responsibilities in addition to the added stress of the season.
1) Exhaustion, including an inability to concentrate on everyday tasks and responsibilities.
2) Anxiety and irritability, which may even escalate to anger.
Caregivers are not the only ones responsible for recognizing these warning signs. It is important that other family members be aware of any behaviors that seem out of place or uncharacteristic for the individual.
Tips for Relieving the Stress When Caring for an Older Adult
While the above behaviors could range from mild to explicit, the experts at InnovAge offer advice to maintain a balance between the stress of care giving responsibilities and additional holiday commitments:
1) Adjust your expectations and keep things simple. “Many caregivers focus on how things ‘used to be’, rather than how things are,” said Fehr. “Drawing comparisons between the past and the present can be a source of guilt.”
2) Treat yourself to a splurge – a massage or dinner and a movie with a friend are reminders that it’s important to focus on yourself as well as others.
3) Seek support, either from family and friends or a professional source. The experts at InnovAge encourage asking for help so you can take time to celebrate the holidays yourself, whether it’s through shopping, decorating, baking, or whatever feels best for you.
Experts at InnovAge agree that the decision to bring in additional resources does not necessarily mean that you have to commit to an ongoing or lengthy arrangement. The holidays often bring about an intense series of events and emotions for families and for caregivers. It is possible and can be helpful to employ professional sources to provide in-home care and support for a short period of time. These sources can include in-home companionship and care support services or use of an adult day care center.
While a certain level of stress is normal, it should be monitored once it begins to interfere with the ability to take pleasure in celebrations and joyous occasions. InnovAge encourages every household with an elderly family member, and anyone who has taken on the care-giving responsibilities of a senior, to remember that ensuring their own health and well being will best allow them to protect the health and well being of others.
InnovAge is here to help seniors and caregivers, alike. InnovAge provides a full spectrum of services to enable older adults to live independently in their homes and communities. InnovAge offers home care services, healthcare and day programs, care management and memory loss programs. For more information about InnovAge, please visit www.MyInnovAge.org or call 303-869-4664.