Giving care for the holidays


PITTSFIELD -- When it comes to being a caregiver for a loved one during the holidays, these annual celebrations can be more complicated than a Norman Rockwell painting.

Youthful childhood memories can feel like a fairy tale in comparison. A caregiver tends to a loved one at a time when they're at their most fragile. And many caregivers watching over a loved one are holding down a job and a family of their own.

The holiday demands can feel like juggling too many responsibilities.

"The Norman Rockwell-type holiday that many remember ... It's no longer mom making the turkey dinner, or hosting extended family or dad carving the turkey dinner. It's different," said Robert Dean, who manages Navigation for Caregivers and previously worked as executive director for Elder Services of Berkshire County.

Beginning Thursday, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield will host a series of workshops for caregivers. The first workshop, "A Caregiver's Guide for the Holidays," talks over how to deal with stressful holiday situations.

The library will also host two other workshops in December on resources and services, improving the quality of life for both the caregiver and care recipient, and raising awareness about scams.

Dean will host the workshop series sponsored by the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum.

Research from the National Caregiver Alliance shows caregivers 40 to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. They are prone to feeling a loss of identity, lower levels of self esteem, constant worry or feelings of uncertainty. They are also prone to depression, stress, frustration, and lower self-care.

All these conditions can be exacerbated during the holiday season.

Part of the answer, Dean said, is letting go of those lofty expectations that they enjoyed from childhood and forging new enjoyable experiences.

That can be easier said then done. For those dealing with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, memories could fade but they'll remain physically strong. They might want to participate in an activity, but a condition makes it a health hazard.

"You may have to re-evaluate whatever expectations you have because they are not realistic at this point," Dean said. "What you try to do is what you can. If you need to simplify, you do."

There are techniques to reduce stress during the holidays. This can include prioritizing tasks or downsizing the holiday spectacle to a few manageable portions.

Individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease can still enjoy simple things like listening to music, Dean said.

Other times it might be beneficial to leave the person out of the holiday festivities or to delegate responsibilities.

"Sometimes [the caregivers] feel guilty for not including [the people they care for] but when the care recipient is OK with not being with everyone," said Bea Cowlin, caregiver coordinator of Elder Services in Berkshire County. "It's OK to make decisions accordingly."

Cowlin said the caregivers she deals with often have a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, dementia, pulmonary disease, and frailty.

She manages the Family Caregiver Support Program in Berkshire County is run by Elder Services. The county has four support groups for caregivers.

Elder Services offers services to caregivers who are income-eligible. The Elder Service's Home Care Program can provide personal care, homemaking services and companion services. It also offers counseling on available resources through Medicare, MassHealth, supplemental medical insurance and Prescription Advantage. The Home Care Program also provides support services for elders whose caregivers may work and are unable to provide daylong monitoring. And it has a library of resources.

People can turn to other resources, including online and national organizations such as websites for the Alzheimer's Association, the National Alliance for Caregiving, and

Caregiving can be a challenge because it means so much to the people involved.

"They're doing it out of combination of love, responsibility and obligation, and it's even harder for them because it's not a shift they are working: They're living it," Dean said.

To reach John Sakata:, or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata


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