Caring for Caregivers at Christmas is a Special Gift

By Lisa M. Petsche

The holiday season is a hectic time for many people, due to the preparations and festivities that typically take place. Staying sane, not to mention enjoying this time of the year, is even more of a challenge for those providing care to a chronically ill relative.

Lighten the Load

The following are some suggestions for lightening the load of a caregiver in your life:

  • Bake extra holiday treats to share with them.
  • Let them know when you are heading out to the grocery store or on other errands, and ask if there’s anything they need.
  • Offer respite for an hour so they can get their hair done or attend worship, or for a longer stretch so they can go shopping or to a holiday event.
  • Offer to decorate, wrap gifts or perform other seasonal tasks. If they enjoy some of these activities, occupy their relative so they can engage in them without interruption.
  • Offer to address greeting cards and take them to the post office, or assist the person in preparing and sending a newsletter to update family members and friends.
  • If they plan to entertain, offer to help with preparations and cleanup, or to attend to the care receiver during the event so the caregiver can concentrate on hosting duties and mingle with guests.
  • If the person doesn’t drive, offer transportation to the mall, a church event or somewhere else that they (and perhaps also their relative, if feasible) would like to go.
  • Encourage the caregiver to practice self-care by eating nutritiously, exercising and getting sufficient rest. Do whatever you can to help make this happen. For example, bring over a meal or offer to sit with their relative so they can take a walk.
  • Surprise the person with a treat, such as a rented movie (perhaps a holiday classic) or a poinsettia plant or other seasonal decoration. If you’re on limited income, sign out magazines, books, movies or music CDs for them from the public library.
  • Ask, rather than guess, what kind of practical help the caregiver could use most; perhaps it’s dusting and vacuuming or running errands. If they decline assistance, continue to express your desire to help. Meanwhile, take it upon yourself to deliver a casserole or baked goods and, if you’re a neighbor, to sweep both walks or bring in both sets of garbage cans. Encourage the person to ask for help if they are trying to do it all alone.

Keep in mind that emotional support and your time are the two most valuable gifts you can give a caregiver.

Thoughtful Gifts
  • Booklet of IOUs for one or more of the following: home-cooked meals, baked goods, respite care, household chores or repairs, yard work, chauffeuring, running errands.
  • Answering machine or cordless phone.
  • Wall calendar with plenty of space for noting appointments.
  • Caregiving binder for keeping records and organizing paperwork.
  • Membership in a caregivers’ organization or non-profit organization associated with their relative’s disease (for example, the Alzheimer’s Association or Parkinson Foundation).
  • Gift certificate for a home healthcare agency, medical supply store or cleaning service.
  • Book of tickets or gift voucher for accessible transportation, if the care receiver is unable to ride in a car, so they can go out together.
  • Inspirational book (choose a collection of verses or short stories if the caregiver doesn’t have much time for reading).
  • Subscription to a caregiving periodical, or a magazine that reflects an interest (such as nature) or favorite pastime (gardening, for example).
  • Hardcover journal for recording their experiences, thoughts and feelings.
  • Relaxation tapes or miniature water fountain.
  • Bird feeder and seed, or binoculars for bird watching.
  • Hobby or craft supplies.
  • Writing paper and envelopes, or a set of all-occasion note cards, along with stamps.
  • Scented items: hand and body lotion, cologne, bar soap, bath salts or shower gel, drawer sachets, potpourri or votive candles.
  • Basket of sweets, gourmet coffees and teas, jams and jellies or dried fruit and nuts.
  • Gift certificate to a restaurant with takeout and delivery service, a dry cleaner with pickup service or a pharmacy or grocery store that delivers.
  • Two tickets to a cultural event – so a friend can accompany them – and an IOU for respite care.

For higher-cost items, pool resources with family members or friends.

Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.

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