Caregivers Can Help Loved Ones Have a Safe Holiday Season

December 2, 2019, 9:45 am | Barbara Dunn Swanson, Laura Sternweis

family gives wrapped gift to grandmother by pressmaster/, Iowa -- As the U.S. population ages, more older adults are likely to be diagnosed with a cognitive impairment. Spending holiday time with someone who experiences cognitive decline may pose caregiving concerns, said Barbara Dunn Swanson, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“The holidays can be stressful for the caregiver and other family members, as well as for a loved one who needs care,” said Dunn Swanson, who specializes in family life issues.

Dunn Swanson shared the following tips from the Alzheimer’s Association to help families navigate these circumstances this holiday season.

  • Start by creating a safe environment in the home, which could include keeping decorations simple and perhaps even artificial. Walk through the home, making sure to keep all walkways and hallways free of tripping hazards. Ask children in the home to keep toys in designated play areas so that gathering areas stay clean and organized.
  • When visiting with someone who is living with dementia, be sure to address the person by name and identify who you are by name. Be patient and supportive if you are not recognized or acknowledged. When communicating, be sure to maintain eye contact and limit other distractions. Having photographs or scrapbooks available during the holiday celebration may be a helpful way to engage in family conversations.
  • Playing familiar music and scheduling rest time can provide the entire family with a needed break during the celebration season. Some families plan smaller gatherings, with fewer people and shorter duration. This can help family members manage expectations and not feel overwhelmed during the holidays.

The Powerful Tools for Caregivers program at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides a variety of tools that help caregivers take care of themselves, especially during the season of celebration, Dunn Swanson said.

The program promotes effective communication, dealing with feelings that accompany the caregiving role and using “I statements” that can give others information about navigating circumstances with family members, Dunn Swanson added.

A Powerful Tools for Caregivers Class Leader Training is being planned for March 2020, for individuals who would be interested in helping their community by becoming a facilitator of the national Powerful Tools for Caregivers Program. To learn more, contact master trainers Malisa Rader or Barbara Dunn Swanson, human sciences specialists with ISU Extension and Outreach.


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