Ten Holiday Gifts for Family Caregivers
Is there a caregiver on your holiday gift list this year? If so, you’re not alone. With an estimated 65 million informal and family caregivers in the United States, representing about 29 percent of the U.S. population, there are plenty of caregivers out there who need some caring themselves this holiday season.
Caregiving can be one of the hardest and most stressful phases of a person’s life. With a growing number of baby boomers reaching 65 and above, more adult children are finding themselves caring for elderly parents or other relatives, often while caring for their own children. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 66 percent of caregivers are women, although the percent of male caregivers is rising.
Not surprisingly, caregiving can take an enormous toll on health. One study examined mortality in caregiving spouses aged 66 to 93 who were experiencing mental and emotional strain. Researchers found that these caregiving spouses were 63 percent more likely to die than people their own age who were not caregivers. According to the American Medical Association,studies show that 16 percent of caregivers report that their health has worsened since they took on the caregiving role. Among caregivers who care for people with Alzheimer’s, nearly 50 percent develop psychological distress themselves.
“The caregiver role is probably one of the most stressful roles that an individual can be involved in, particularly when it involves caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other causes of dementia,” says Michael Noe, MD, associate dean for community relations and clinical affairs in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. “Anything that a friend or family member can do to acknowledge that stress and help the caregiver deal with it, essentially caring for the caregiver, will make an enormous difference.”
Holidays can be especially hard for caregivers . The hustle and bustle of the holiday season – buying gifts, cooking, family gatherings with and without the care recipient, sending holiday cards – may lead to frustration and added stress, not joy, peace, and goodwill toward fellow man and woman. Emotionally, the holidays can be difficult, too. Both caregiver and care recipient may miss loved ones who have passed. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may worsen during the holidays; cancer patients may suddenly decline.
So what can you do to support the caregiver on your holiday wish list? Try these ten suggested holiday gifts for caregivers. Many of them won't cost a penny, but will be welcomed with gratitude:
- Let the caregiver off the holiday hook. Tell the caregiver you don’t expect a gift this year. Offer to help with gift buying, addressing and mailing holiday cards, and other holiday-related activities. Decorate the house for her. Or offer to help with caregiving so the caregiver can go perform those holiday tasks – and enjoy them.
- Give the gift of time. Most caregivers are trying to balance work, family, and the care recipient’s needs. Often, their own needs get lost in the mixture. Give the caregiver on your list a set of gift certificates. The certificates should include specific dates when you will take over care for a few hours or days and give the caregiver some time to do whatever she needs or wants to do. Add a few extra “wild card” gift certificates to the package so the caregiver can cash in if she needs them unexpectedly.
- Run errands. Set a date to pick up the “to do” list and run errands. Suggest things to add to the list like a trip to the grocery store, drugstore, bank, post office, library, hardware store; an oil change for the car, or other necessary things that might not get done often enough.
- Help with mundane daily tasks. Housecleaning, snowplowing, home maintenance, and landscaping are often on the caregiver’s to-do list in addition to helping the care recipient with his or her daily needs. If you can’t do these tasks yourself, pay for a professional to come in and do the job.
- Audiobooks and music. The caregiver may have limited reading time. Audiobooks and music can be used while performing household chores, driving the care recipient to appointments, or performing other tasks.
- Social activities. Caregivers often become isolated from friends and other family members, especially if caregiving requires that they live with the care recipient. Give caregivers a chance to socialize – for instance, offer to stay with the care recipient while the caregiver attends a weekly meeting of a favorite hobby “club” – running, walking, bridge, knitting, Bingo – or simply go out with friends.
- A date. Arrange for someone to stay with the care recipient and while you take the caregiver out on a “date.” A date can be a movie, lunch or dinner, coffee, a walk in the park, a performance – a special outing of any sort.
- A daily “me” break. Most caregivers enjoy an occasional Big Pampering Experience like a massage or a day at the spa. But small daily “breaks” may be even more important in reducing overall stress levels. You can put some things under the tree that can help them take that daily break. Here are a few suggestions:
- A handcrafted teapot and a variety of high-quality teas.
- A handcrafted coffee mug and a bag of organic coffee beans.
- A book of mandalas and some high-quality colored pencils to go with them.
- A subscription to a magazine about a favorite topic
- Healthful foods. Both caregivers and care recipients will often enjoy a basket of fresh fruits. Holiday cookies? Sure, tuck in a few. But a big pot of soup, packaged in individual containers for freezing, will be welcome well after Santa has dusted off the last sugar cookie.
- Exercise. Purchase a gym membership for the caregiver and arrange for the recipient’s care while the caregiver uses that membership. Exercise reduces stress, improves cardiovascular health, and improves mood – all things that caregivers need.
Have any suggestions yourself? We’d love to hear them! Check out our comments section.
University at Buffalo. (2011, Dec 15). Holiday Gifts for Caregivers Should Provide Much-Needed Respite, Make Caregiving Easier. Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.newswise.com/articles/holiday-gifts-for-caregivers-should-provide-much-needed-respite-make-caregiving-easier?ret=/articles/channels&channel=53&category=feature&page=1&search[status]=3&search[sort]=date+desc&search[channel_id]=53
Family Caregiver Alliance. (2011). “Selected Caregiver Statistics.” Retrieved from http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=439
Shultz, Richard and Beach, Scott (1999). Caregiving as A Risk for Mortality: The Caregiver Health Effects Study. JAMA, December 15, 1999 - Vol. 282, No.23