Caring for aging parents is always a balancing act, especially during the holidays (not to mention with the added challenge of a global pandemic). Eighty-five percent of caregivers surveyed say the holidays are the primary time when their older family member or parent interacts with extended family. Unfortunately, to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, experts recommend limiting holiday gatherings to immediate family.

This disappoints many, including caregivers who have felt isolated by social distancing restrictions, families with older loved ones (who are more at risk), as well as those who use this time as a break or vacation. But despite this year’s unique circumstances, it’s still possible to enjoy the holidays with your older parents.

Honor Your Feelings

As a caregiver, you might feel disappointed, alone or even angry about not seeing relatives for the holidays. Perhaps the holidays are a time when you have extra help (from out of town family, etc.) and as such, your caregiver responsibilities are reduced. Or you’ve been isolating with your parents for most of the year and you’re ready for a change of pace. It’s understandable that you may be frustrated about not being able to have a “normal” holiday season. Those feelings are valid and shared by many others this year. 

You also want to make sure to accept your parent’s feelings about the change of plans. Especially if your loved one is coping with dementia, they might feel anything from sadness to anger to discouragement or even relief. Acknowledge that this year is different and validate your loved one’s feelings, even if you disagree. 

In the spirit of accepting the things you cannot change, intend to create happy memories anyway.

Accept Help

If you live near relatives and have ways to accept their safe assistance—take them up on it. Better yet, ask for help and delegate. Taking care of aging parents is a demanding job; you deserve support. 

Consider asking for help with items such as:

  • Putting up your holiday decorations.
  • If it is safe to do so, have them spend some time with your loved one, so you can have time off.
  • Coordinating this year’s socially distanced activities and communicating with the family.

If you’re feeling burnt out, treat yourself to services like cleaning, home repair or meal delivery.

Involve Your Loved One

Ask your parents what traditions are most important to them and find creative/safe ways to adapt for this year. As your loved ones get older, it’s even more important to include them in activities. This keeps them engaged and moving around.

Use these tips to include your loved one in holiday preparations:

  • Focus on the things that bring the most happiness and let go of other activities. Don’t take on too many tasks; it will be overwhelming for both of you.
  • If your parents have limitations, have them help with smaller activities. For example, preparing an appetizer, wrapping presents or setting the table.
  • Maintain your loved one’s normal routine as much as possible. That will keep holiday preparations from becoming confusing or disruptive.

Celebrate Virtually

If family members or friends can’t travel this year, take advantage of digital tools to connect and virtually recreate holiday traditions. 

  • Use the Disney+ Group Watch feature to have a classic holiday movie marathon. This lets you sync up and watch movies with people in different locations! 
  • Attend virtual holiday concerts or religious services together. 
  • Bake cookies or other goodies and send along before your virtual celebrations. (Just make sure they’re options that can stay fresh for a few days. 🙂) 
  • Record and send a family video holiday card.

For even more tips, watch our Executive Director, Kaylynn’s video about caring for elders during a pandemic. 

Plan Socially Distanced Activities

We’ve put together a list of safe, socially-distanced activities. For those with family and friends nearby, these can help you safely connect while still following your local guidelines. Alternatively, if you’re caring for aging parents and plan to have a small, intimate holiday celebration, these activities can help you break out of the monotony. 

  • Plan an outdoor visit with hot chocolate and blankets. Bonus points if you can include a bonfire or fire pit. 
  • Go for a walk in the neighborhood to enjoy holiday lights and decorations. If it’s too cold, take a car ride to an area with lots of seasonal displays. 
  • Send holiday cards but take extra time to make them more homemade. You can even turn this into an arts-and-crafts project. 

Adjust Gift Giving

Shopping for gifts this season might be one of the easiest tasks to adapt. Simply buy gifts online and ship them directly to recipients. Ask relatives to mail gifts to your home rather than drop them off. Then open gifts during a video call.

If your parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s, refer to our list of 10 gifts ideas for someone with dementia

Take Care of Yourself

Quote: You can't pour from an empty cup

The stress of this year, coupled with the demands of the holiday season, can be a recipe for burnout. As a caregiver, give yourself permission to put yourself first.

As a rule of thumb, follow these guidelines: 

  • Don’t take on more than you can reasonably manage.
  • Shortcuts are your friend. For example, buy cookies and baked goods from a local bakery. Give gift cards. Simplify holiday decorations. Have meals or groceries delivered.
  • Give yourself a few minutes of quiet time each day. Take 10 minutes to sit and do nothing or take a walk around the block. 
  • Connect with other caregivers through an online group like AlzConnected or find a caregivers support group in your area.

Remember that you can’t care for others if you’re not feeling your best. For more pointers, read our article on self-care for caregivers

Caring for Aging Parents is Tough, Give Yourself Grace this Holiday Season 

After a difficult year, the idea of not meeting with family or celebrating can be disappointing. But there are plenty of ways for caregivers to enjoy the season while adapting to keep safe. The key is to adjust expectations and remain open to new ways to create happy memories.

Happy Holidays! 💚