Help for Holidays: What Experienced Family Caregivers Do Differently (Part 1)

For nearly a decade I have been working with and training non-professional family caregivers. In this 4 part blog series I’ll sum up a few differences I see between the experts and the beginners. Check it out, and follow my blog for email notifications of the remaining 3 posts this month.


There are hundreds of tips on how to prepare for the holidays when caregiving for a family member with Alzheimer’s or other dementia causing illnesses. Do they provide decent direction? Sure. Are they comforting? I’m not so sure.

Many of the best tips¬†require time and adjustment on the part of the caregiver. ¬†Often times it is the caregiver’s anxiety that¬†slows or prevents them from tending to themselves while caregiving for someone else.

Real change happens when the caregiver changes his/her relationship to caregiving itself. When they rebalance and learn that their needs are important too. This may happen on its own, over time.

In the next few weeks, this four part series will take a look at what experienced caregivers do differently than the beginners.

Difference #1: Experienced Family Caregivers Stop Over-Protecting Everyone

Concern for what distant family and friends may experience when seeing their sick relative is very common. The family caregiver may find that they have a heightened need to protect the one they are caring for, as well as, their guests. This tendency to buffer and protect everyone’s experience and feelings can be exhausting.

The experienced caregiver learns to step back and have their own experience without hovering their sick relative. They check in occasionally, or delegate helpers to observe for them.

After a particularly hard year and marked decline, one veteran caregiver decided to write a letter to his family before they all started arriving for the holidays. He included some changes they might notice, and he let them know that she may not attend some of the family traditions. He proposed low-key visits, and activities that she was still able to enjoy, and he even suggested appropriate gifts for her.

This letter helped him to alleviate some of the need to insulate¬†his family and his sick mother from each other. The letter¬†allowed¬†him and his relatives to process some of their¬†grief and loss before they were all collectively face-to-face with a potentially shocking new set of symptoms. It also allowed for more graceful visits with Mom and her relatives, by framing for everyone what Mom could and couldn’t tolerate.

Finally, the letter¬†served as the start of a conversation about loss for everyone. It made the illness and the guests grief¬†okay to talk about rather than “politely” keeping it all in.¬†Avoiding this conversation creates more anxiety¬†by¬†inviting¬†an elephant into the room. Being open allows family and friend to process and support each other, creates closeness, and makes way for the party.

The lesson here is that the experienced caregiver is open when he can be about what is going on. She asks for help and delegates tasks. He allows conversation about loss rather than assuming that people wont be able to handle it.

Keep an eye out for the rest of this four part series this month..

Next post: Difference #2: How the Experts Get Educated (coming Dec 10th)

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