In your family, who is taking care of your aging parents or any other relative who needs special attention?
Looking after the elderly can be rewarding – but exhausting. What can you do over the holidays for the caregivers in your family?
Give time off. "The best thing you can give is rest," says Beverly Hills psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. "Offer respite – maybe a weekend at a spa or some weekend away… Caregivers need only rest."
Recognize these heroes. "A lot of times they're lost in the shuffle," says family-care consultant Melissa Kahn. "It's all about the person who has the illness."
Sign up for more duties yourself. Go to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions. Take the aging relative on a drive. Visit with rented movies and popcorn, says Kahn. Or stay home with your aging relative so the caregiver in your family can go to the theater. Volunteer to bring the car to the dealer for its tune-up.
Pay for a cleaning service. The caregiver in your family doesn't need to double as housecleaner every day of the year.
Give presents that arrive at the home. It can be tricky for a caregiver to leave. Give magazine subscriptions or sign up for a fruit-of-the-month delivery, says Kahn.
Put together a family photo album. The caregiver and the aging relative will enjoy flipping through it and reminiscing about good times, says Kahn.
Visit more often. Especially this time of year, the caregiver and the person living with illness might enjoy seeing loved ones. Otherwise, they can feel "isolated," says Kahn. It's often too difficult to get ill, elderly relatives to a family function. "That's overwhelming for the caregiver," says Kahn. So bring small gatherings to them. That way, says Kahn, "If grandpa has to get grandma ready, he doesn't have to worry about getting her dressed."
Simplify your plans. "Less really can be more," says Kahn. "Instead of a big dinner, maybe it's a dessert. Everyone brings a favorite dessert to grandma's house."
Gather early in the day. That's when aging relatives tend to be most energetic, says Kahn.
Be the caregiver's personal shopper. Offer to head to the grocery store to buy food – or to the mall to buy Christmas or birthday gifts, says Kahn.
Offer to put up or take down holiday decorations. If the relative who needs care is cognitively impaired, remember to avoid flashing lights or anything that's too stimulating, says Kahn.
Share inspirational stories. Pass along articles about famous caregivers. (This excellent Esquire piece about film critic Roger Ebert and his battle with cancer talks about his caregiver and wife, Chaz Ebert.)
Declare a caregiver's appreciation day. Don't wait until the official national date for it in May. Why not celebrate the caregivers in your family more frequently, anyway?
For more stories about caregiving and aging parents, read: