It’s the most wonderful time of the year!


Or is it? If you are the primary caregiver of someone with dementia, it can be dicey. All year you meet the needs of your loved one. You insure safety, go to doctor appointments, maintain good hygiene, provide nutrition and socialization and that’s a slow day. Then, BAM it’s the holidays and the rest of your family shows up telling you what you could do better, accusing you of not telling them everything and making suggestions that feel like insults.


The best advice I can give is to mentally prepare for the onslaught. Feeble, I know, but since you already know there is a high likelihood some iteration of the above will happen you should not be surprised. Mentally acknowledging it in advance will remove some of the anxiety. In fact, you may find yourself expecting to be questioned by other family members and your mind can prepare so it doesn’t wreck your holiday. It can give you some peace.


Practice saying, “That is a wonderful idea” or “I’ll give that some thought”. Of course, you already know that you have tried any suggestion they may have but they don’t have to know that. If you start to explain that you’ve already tried what they suggest, an argument usually follows. Something like, “you’ve always been so bossy and controlling”. Then, “Well you’re never here to see what happens. You never offer to help”. Finally, “If it’s that bad, let’s just go ahead and put him in a home”. We can all write the rest of the script.


On the flip side, sometimes some loving fresh eyes on the caregiving role can yield some great suggestions. Being open goes a long way to more collaborative care. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? You need all the help you can get. Asking for it during the holidays when everyone is so free with suggestions can turn into some terrific support especially if you follow-up with them later in reference to their suggestions to get additional by-in.


Sometimes it’s easy to forget that no matter how difficult and complicated family dynamics become, everyone has the same goal; To ensure the best possible care for the person they love. But everyone comes from a different place and drags with them the baggage that accompanies any family.


Every family has:


The know it all. This family member basically swoops in and tries to tell everyone what needs to be done to make Dad happier. How to handle them – Give them things to research and let them be the expert.

The gossip. You already know this person is going to talk about your caregiving skills or lack thereof after they leave. Your job is to see how long it takes to get back to you and not feed into it by becoming defensive. Just smile to yourself and say, “I’m glad everyone is in agreement that I need help, so what can we do about this?”

The bean-counter. All they care about is the cost of any care needs like having someone come help you care for your loved one. Get them to research all options of care and make sure they are aware of the money available to pay for things and if none is available, ask the bean-counter to come up with a way that everyone can financially pitch in.

The martyr.
This person makes sure everyone knows how hard they have it. They need lots of praise for their dedication and help them take a break. Every family needs this person but the more fragile they become, the more they are telling you they need a break. Take this seriously because studies show that when a caregiver starts talking like a martyr, it’s a cry for help. Studies show that primary caregivers are at a high risk for suicide and other debilitating physical problems resulting in death.

The peacemaker.
Always in the middle but abhors conflict. This person absorbs and internalizes every word but they are most likely to decompensate when a difficult decision has to be made resulting in fleeing the decision.


Here’s the best part, everyone knows who everyone else is but rarely see themselves as playing a part in any of the above personality traits. Accept who they are and the role they play. Knowing each person’s personality in the family makes it sort of fun for you because you can now predict behavior and not be surprised or upset.


Finally, rejoice! It is guaranteed that January 2nd is just around the corner and you have another 353 days to recover!



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