Strategies for Special Holidays
By David Lowell, MD

The holidays can be a time of renewal - renewal of friendships through visits and cards, renewal of family relationships through gatherings and shared meals, and renewal of one’s faith. But the holidays also are a time that can be particularly challenging for a caregiver. It is a time during which the changes in one’s life are highlighted and there are additional demands placed upon on an already stressed life.

The holidays are always a whirlwind and this is especially true for caregivers. During the holidays it is important for caregivers to seek a balance - between caring for someone else and caring for oneself; between celebrating good memories of past holidays while not dwelling on what might have been lost. Here are ideas to keep in mind for both the caregiver and the care receiver as the holiday season arrives:

Ideas for the Caregiver:

1. Don’t try to do it all. In the past you may have prepared Christmas dinner for 20 and created hand-made gifts for all of your relatives. Ask other members of the family to carry on specific family traditions. Dividing the responsibility will help you manage your stress level. 

2. Don’t attempt to travel long distances by car if your loved one is not used to it and tires easily. You will both be exhausted by the time you reach your destination, and you will have a difficult time enjoying yourself. 

3. Ask family or friends to provide respite care. Make time to enjoy holiday decorations or window shopping. Just a few hours of time by yourself or with a friend can be renewing and help combat a sense of isolation. 

4. Avoid comparisons with past holidays. It is often emotionally draining to look upon change as loss. “Life is change” can be a helpful concept to hold onto. 

5. Create new traditions that can be carried on year to year, rather than dwelling on old traditions that your loved one can no longer participate in.

Ideas for Your Loved One:

1. Find a way to have your loved one participate in the holidays, whether its making decorations or counting the days on an Advent calendar

2. Decorate your loved one’s room or living area for the holidays. Incorporate symbols and decorations that are meaningful. 

3. Stimulate all of your loved one’s senses with the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of the holidays. Ideas include holiday music and decorations, a favorite dessert and familiar scents.

4. Familiar holiday foods are a nice way to evoke positive memories.

5. If your loved one is in a care facility, extend traditions to other people in the facility. For example, pass out holiday cards or make a traditional dessert to share.


Over the past decade Dr. David M. Lowell has worked extensively with caregivers for people with a wide range of conditions including Alzheimer Disease, brain injuries, and developmental disabilities. A behavioral neurologist, Dr. Lowell is medical director of Neurobehavioral Resources, Ltd., a residential behavioral rehabilitation center for adults with brain injury located in Conroe, Texas, a suburb of Houston. 



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