Coping with Christmas is hard enough when you’re caring for someone with dementia, but whilst you might be able to deal with the practical challenges of the festive season, the emotional ones could catch you by surprise
Here’s how to cope with all the feelings, memories and emotions that Christmas can bring:
The Christmas countdown has begun. From now until December 25 you won’t be able to switch on the TV or enter a shop without being reminded that it’s nearly Christmas. For families living with dementia, the festive season can be bitter sweet; on the one hand you’re happy and grateful to still be able to celebrate with your loved one and determined to enjoy the day. Yet on the other hand, you can’t help remembering how it used to be and feeling one or several of the below emotions:
Maybe the person you love used to handle Christmas with military precision, choose perfect presents and wrap them like a pro. If that’s no longer possible, you might feel a sense of loss. Caring for someone with dementia is often described as a ‘living grief;’ the person you’ve known for a lifetime is disappearing, but you still love them and have to care for them as they are now. This is a difficult and painful concept to manage at the best of times, but at Christmas, when emotions are running high, it can feel quite overwhelming.
Did you used to share the shopping or decorate the tree together? Maybe you just enjoyed talking (or moaning) about all the festivities and preparations. Now it feels as if you’re making all the plans and decisions on your own. They’re physically present, but you still feel lonely.
Many family carers feel they ‘should’ be doing a better job and have moments when they think they just can’t do it anymore. At Christmas, these feeling can become even more intense because expectations (of ourselves and others) are often unrealistically high. So if you’ve just been snappy or angry with the person you’re caring for, (which is easy to do when you’re feeling stressed) guilt can quickly set in.
Could this be you? If you relate to any of the above feelings, don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Here’s 7 ways to feel better fast:
* Have a good cry. Crying is very cathartic, it’s a natural way to reduce emotional stress, it can also lower blood pressure and pulse rate. Don’t bottle it up.
* Focus on what you can still do together, rather than what you can’t. For example, they might not be able to cook the turkey, but they might still be able to set the table. A marathon Christmas shopping trip might be too much, but an hour in a favourite store on a weekday (when it’s less busy) might be more feasible?
* Include the person you love in all your decision making and ask for their views and advice. Whether you’re trying to decide what to buy your grandson or who to visit on Christmas Eve, don’t assume that they won’t be able to contribute to the conversation, no matter how advanced their dementia. They might just surprise you.
* Be honest with family and friends, share how you’re feeling and if you could do with more support…say so.
* Make the most of the Christmas memories you can still share. Is there a favourite Christmas film you can still watch together? Or some favourite Christmas music? What about photos? Most families have photographs taken on Christmas day, maybe you could put them all together into one album to share?
* Be kind to yourself. No matter how much you have to do, it’s essential that you make time for yourself during the festive period. If not, you’re likely to become depressed, resentful or ill, which could all, potentially, affect your ability to care for the person you love.
* Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember, you are handling an incredibly difficult situation, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. Frustration is common, but don’t obsess about the stuff you get wrong. Most of the time, you’re doing a pretty good job.