The holidays celebrate family, build memories and bring people together. But they can also be an emotionally charged time for caregivers who are observing the decline of their beloved parents.
When I was caregiving for my parents full-time in the last year of my mother’s life, the holidays didn’t mean much to me as I was too involved in the daily routine that was more like a hospital schedule. Both parents were under in-home hospice and pre-hospice care situations and the entire first-floor of their two-story townhouse had been redesigned to accommodate two hospital beds and other medical equipment. Our lives were — for lack of a better term — clinical.
While I was glad my mother was still here with us, Alzheimer’s had stolen her memory and my father, who had been diagnosed with dementia, didn’t respond to any cues about the holiday. In such a caregiving situation, one day blends into another and the holidays become irrelevant. All I could do was simply hold on to memories of past Christmas festivities with my family and put my own memory-making on hold.
When I thought about holiday gift ideas for caregivers, I remembered the kinds of gifts I would have enjoyed receiving during the holidays. The truth is, however, that gifts were welcome at any time of the year. Caregivers need respite — a lot of it — day after day. Here are some ideas for any caregiver on your holiday gift giving list; presents any caregiver would welcome twelve months out of the year, not just during Christmas.
HOLIDAY GIFTS ANY CAREGIVER WILL ENJOY
1. Respite. Any caregiver will tell you that a break from routine for any reason — even if just to take a nap! — is a welcome gift year-round. Offer to “parent” sit for a few hours or hire hourly certified health aides as the ones available at Miami Home Care Services. Create your own gift certificate for the caregiver with a pre-purchased number of hours to use at their own discretion. Although you can’t wrap this gift with a ribbon, believe me, every single caregiver will be deeply grateful for respite care.
2. Entertainment and dining cards. Of course, if I didn’t have a someone to watch over my parents, I couldn’t go out. A fantastic gift would be both respite care and a gift card for movies and restaurants in any amount. Starbuck’s cards are welcome by any coffee lover as a gift. Also consider giving the gift of an online membership to a movie club, such as Netflix, or an iTunes card.
3. Online exercise programs. This is something I wish I had discovered sooner. It wasn’t until after my mom passed away — nearly a year later — that a friend introduced me to Daily Burn. There are other exercise programs out there, but I particularly like this one because the daily workouts are easy and target the whole body in just half an hour. As we all know, the most important aspect of caregiving is caring for yourself. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be the best possible caregiver and if you’re a caregiver, this is the best gift you can give yourself: half an hour a day to keep fit. To sign up for Daily Burn — a total bargain at $12.95/month — click here and purchase a membership on the caregiver’s behalf.
4. Health, wellness and beauty gifts. And speaking of good health, no caregiver would ever turn away an opportunity to benefit from a day at the spa for massage therapy and other wellness treatments, as well as yoga classes, which can relax the body and the mind. I particularly recommend Hand and Stone Massage in the South Florida are, which offers affordable 50 minute massages and gift certificates. Massage isn’t just a form of pampering; it also provides many physical and mental health benefits.
5. Food. When I was a caregiver, one friend gave me a gift I’ll never forget. She called it “school spaghetti” and it was just that — a simple homemade spaghetti casserole accompanied by garlic bread. This kind of comfort food was particularly welcome at a time when my father had just returned from one of his hospital visits and I was quite exhausted from sleepless nights. Think of any of the myriad food gifts out there — from gift cards for markets and restaurants — to gift baskets and more. How about some gourmet hot chocolate mix? One friend once sent me a gift of chocolate-covered fruit from Edible Arrangements and another sent me soup mixes that I like from Minnesota’s The Secret Garden, which are not only delicious, but also easy to make. Hearing through the grapevine that I was under the weather, yet another friend surprised me by calling a local restaurant and requesting delivery. As you can see, food gifts needn’t be limited to the holidays.
6. Household help. Caregiving at home usually involves enormous loads of laundry. I lived in an apartment building with two laundry rooms on different floors. My daily treks with sheets and towels to the laundry room required a cart. Because of elderly incontinence and sponge bathing, sheets and towels need to be washed frequently. Consider helping out a friend by hiring maid services from a local agency, which will free up time for any caregiver who would rather spend it on self-care. I used Maid Brigade several times in the Miami area.
7. Kitchenware. No caregiver can do without an immersion blender and a food processor. These are key to preparing foods for in-home patient care when the elderly need a soft-mechanical diet. I used Cuisinart brand kitchen appliances for turning just about anything into “baby food” for my parents and as an added bonus, delicious hot soups for myself!
8. Care packages. Care packages aren’t just for college kids. Think of anything your caregiver might want or need and put it all in a box. Caregivers often suffer from an undue amount of stress. I for one enjoyed anything that was soothing — bubble bath, bath salts or even just hand soap or dishwashing soap with a favorite scent such as lavender — any little detail that takes away from the clinical setting of the home. Although I was often too tired to read and preferred mindless television at the end of the day, a good read or even an audio book would have been welcome.
I hope some of these ideas can spark creative and thoughtful gift-giving from your heart … Merry Christmas!
— Maria de los Angeles is an award-winning writer based in Miami who became a caregiver to her parents in 2008. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for eldercare and caregiver issues.Claudio Alegre is the CEO & Chief Content Writer for Angel Home Care Services on the Web and Patient and Family Advocate off the Web. He lives in Miami with his wife and 3 boys. He's passionate about healthcare and all things caregiving. He can be reached at [email protected] or directly at 305.220.4544
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