Guest post by Kate Jones, RN, MSN, CCM
As the holidays shift into full gear, more than 65 million Americans (nearly one in three adults) will attempt to balance the bustling activities of the season while providing care for an elderly or sick loved one .
While trying to organize the traditional family dinner or get through holiday shopping, they will also be making sure medications are being taken on time, wounds are being cleaned, medical equipment is working correctly, and more.
In addition to the physical and emotional aspects of being responsible for a loved one’s primary care, many of these family caregivers are also providing financial support for them. On average, family caregivers are contributing $5,531 of their income each year towards caregiving expenses, and with the national median household income of $43,026, this can take a huge toll. 
The daily responsibilities combined with the emotional strain of caring for a loved one can quickly become overwhelming and even adversely affect the family caregiver’s health.
In a study of caregivers for patients affected by Alzheimer’s, the caregivers’ self-reported health declined steadily and significantly. Emergency room visits and hospital-based services doubled over that time for these caregivers .
Given that the holidays can already bring stress to many, it’s important to keep family caregivers and their well-being in mind.
Clinicians, nurses and social workers from Amedisys–home health and hospice care offer their advice for family caregivers to cope during the holidays and throughout the year.
- Stay organized.
To keep from getting overwhelmed during this hectic time of year, maintain detailed lists and instructions for administering medications, dressing wounds, and working medical equipment. Ask a health care professional to demonstrate tasks for you and work with you to make sure the care is being provided correctly. If you still have trouble, know that it is always okay to call your doctor or home health provider to ask for more help.
- Be prepared for changes.
Individuals with a diagnosis like dementia or Alzheimer’s can display challenging behaviors such as anger, agitation, or aggression. Remember first that it is the disease, not the person. Work with your physical therapist, nurse or doctor on what to expect either physically or mentally. Ask questions.
- Take your time.
One occupational therapist explained that rushing a patient through an activity could take away their sense of independence, causing the patient to become depressed and possibly cause an injury.
- Take a break or arrange for support.
“You may develop feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness because of the constant responsibilities, deprivation, and isolation that can result from being a caregiver,” said a vocational nurse. “Research community agency help- take time for yourself as you hire adult day care, chore workers, home delivered meals, etc. to help relieve the physical stress.”
- Know that you are not alone.
Contact your county to find out what services are available through your Area Agency on Aging, the Veterans Administration or other aging services provided based in your community.
- Take care of yourself.
“Even though their family member and care is their main priority it is important to remember to take care of themselves too,” said a hospice social worker. “If the caregivers don’t keep themselves healthy, they can’t care for their family member.”
While the holidays should be a joyful time for families and friends to come together, the reality is that many family caregivers feel isolated and overwhelmed. These tips should help ease the burden of caring for a sick or elderly parent, spouse, or friend and allow family caregivers to remain happy and healthy during the holidays and throughout the New Year.
 National Alliance for Caregiving. Caregiving in the U.S., 2009.
 National Alliance for Caregiving. Evercare® NAC Caregiver Cost Study, 2007.
 National Alliance for Caregiving. Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Healthcare Costs Increase as Person with Dementia Declines, 2011.
Kate Jones, RN, MSN, CC, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Amedisys. She helps design chronic care programs for home health, palliative and hospice care patients, enhancing the standards of patient care, improving quality outcomes and the training and education of clinical staff across the country.