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Caring for a loved one at the holidays can be an extra burden, above and beyond the other times of the year when you are making sure someone is looked after and cared for.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP calculates there are approximately 43.5 million people in the U.S. who provide uncompensated care for another person. If you’re one of those people, it’s important to find some ways to cope with both the pressures of the holidays and the challenges of caregiving.

Give yourself permission to ask others to help. The season is full of big hearts, so take others up on their offers and don’t be afraid to ask friends and relatives for some assistance so you can have a break.

If your loved one has dementia, it can be frustrating to spend that quality holiday time you crave with them. Simplify the season being realistic with your expectations of the loved one’s participation. Honor your old traditions but take it down a notch, or create new traditions that help your family embrace the “new normal.” Let go of perfection and try to enjoy “what is.”

If you know someone is caring for another person, this holiday season give them the gift of time. Studies have shown that caregivers exercise less, eat less healthy, and don’t go outdoors to do something as simple as take a walk most days. A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine states that interrupted sleep is equivalent to no more than four hours of consecutive sleep. Those who have “night duty” with their loved one would very much appreciate an afternoon to nap or even one full, good night’s sleep. You can also give the caregiver you know a massage certificate, a yoga CD, or a restaurant gift certificate.

If someone in your family is doing the lion’s share of work with a loved one, pitch in and help. Don’t criticize their efforts. Give them days off and help take that constant load off of them by being realistic about what needs to be done and asking that person to assign tasks so everyone isn’t doing the same thing–or nothing.

Finally, if you care for someone else and you feel blue, you’ve got lots of company. Even people who don’t have the added stress of caring for another person get the holiday blues. But lessen your chances of struggling with depression and anxiety by recognizing your own–perhaps unrealistic–expectations for making everything perfect, and be aware of the possibly excessive expectations of others.

Mille Lacs Health System has a Caregiver Support Group that meets the third Tuesday of the month at 10 a.m. in the East Conference Room in Long Term Care. For more information, call (320) 630-4585.

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