Services for Elders and Their Families
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Dealing With the Holidays

Well, it’s drawing to that time of year again...the Holidays. Many of us will use this time to be renewed by the magic of the season. Most of us will not. This seems to be the time of year of unrealistic expectations. It is unfortunate that many of us will over do, over spend, try to please and still finish feeling unrequited.

Sandwich Generation caregivers, those who are caring for an older relative and also caring for minor children, are in a uniquely stressful situation. For those of you who are Caregivers in the Sandwich Generation, and who are ready for a change, this could be the season for new and exciting beginnings.

This is the time of year to re-think and take hold of an opportunity to relive the past. What are the traditions that you hold dear and want to pass along to your children? Be on guard for the ‘spend, spend, spend’ mentality, that seldom brings lasting happiness. Toys and games are part of the season for children, but decide ahead of time what you want this season to be about.

This may be the year to glean all that you can from the pressures of being a Sandwich Generation Caregiver. Take a moment and step back from the long preparations.

Here are a few tips that I have learned over my years in working with caregivers. Many of you reading this may relate to the ideas expressed. The important thing in being a caregiver, is being open to new ideas, and new ways of looking at old situations. Ask yourself what are your true values-and what is the meaning of the Holiday season.

Remember: If you always do, what you’ve always done, You will always get, what you’ve always got. What do you want this year?

Be realistic about planning.
Alternate busy and more hectic days, with quiet ones. Plan Holiday meals and visits with older person’s during their peak hours. Delegate as many holiday responsibilities as you can in advance. Don’t wait for someone to offer help at the last moment, and don’t exhaust yourself by doing all of the work. Many caregivers feel that no one can care for their elder, like they can. While this may be true, the cost may be your health and happiness.

Make adjustments.
Family traditions enrich our lives and give us the feeling of belonging. Be aware, though, that some changes may be necessary. Perhaps baking hundreds of cookies or serving six courses at your holiday meal will overwhelm you this year. Scale down, rethink, improvise! Then you will have the energy and spirit you need to enjoy the best of your family’s traditions: the sharing of a special holiday dish, the singing of a nostalgic seasonal song, the reading of a classic story, or the re-telling of an old family tale.

Accept what is.
Concentrate on the things that can be improved; avoid wasting time and worry on things you cannot control or change. If you are unable to do this-don’t just fall into old patterns and routines. You may want to seek professional help in discovering your own weaknesses and more effective ways of dealing with them. Caregiver support groups, even the informal ones, can be a great source of care during this season.

Be creative and cost effective.
Choose gifts that fit the circumstances and tastes of the elder person.

  • Family photographs and albums keep loved ones up-to-date on family activities and enrich hours spent alone or with friends. If you have children, see the Intergenerational ideas below.
     
  • Calendars can be beautiful as well as practical ways to stay oriented in time and look ahead to visits, appointments, and outings.
     
  • Stationary and stamps encourage maintaining contact with friends and relatives far away.
     
  • A hair care appointment can be a revitalizing gift.
     
  • Slippers, gloves, wallets, purses, socks, hand mirrors, combs, or playing cards may be appropriate. Be sure to talk with the elder person to discover what will be most welcome.

Involve each member of the family.
Begin by taking plenty of time to talk with your elders and children about the holiday. Find out what means most to them; what makes the holiday special from their point of view. Then make them partners in designing the family celebration. Being asked for advice affirms dignity and importance for people of all ages and is particularly meaningful

Encourage inter-generational activities.
Find a common interest or bond between both the children and elders in your family and plan a simple activity. There are many events during the holidays that are free. Perhaps these would be a good common ground to plan to attend. Remember though, keep your expectations realistic. Try to enjoy the time together as a family, celebrating history and the differences among us.

  • Have elders and children decorate their own family tree. Using homemade ornaments that they have made together. I have always enjoyed having several trees in my home, with different ones having themes, and I have always loved ‘family trees’.
     
  • Sometimes it is fun to let children, with the help of one adult, perform a play or skit about the holiday.
     
  • Try arranging a small Intergenerational dessert party: Perhaps children and elders can join together and go Caroling before a special dessert. If Caroling in a neighborhood is not feasible, sing to each other. This can really be enjoyable, and is ‘safe’ ground.
     
  • Play an old, perhaps forgotten, family game such as Parcheesi or Uno. If children or elders are not able to play on their own, teams are often fun; with the children and elders playing together. Charades using popular Holiday song titles will be both easy and allow for all to know each other and see creative talents.
     
  • If elders and children are at a distance, try designing a photo book of your child’s life. If possible, a video “tour” or audio cassette of singing, may be fun for your child to create and beneficial for your elder. If editing is necessary, you can edit later to design the tape for your elders appropriateness. Also, many Video design stores, will dub in subtitles and photos for a small fee. A copy of this can be a great momento for your child’s future. When sending this gift, pack the tape in a colorful, child-decorated box, with some appropriate snacks and such. This can be a fun gift to put together and open.


Home for the holidays
If home is where the heart is, you and your loved ones, both young and old can be there this holiday season. You can go home to your significant holiday traditions, those that bring you close to one another, without sacrificing the tranquillity that should also be part of the season.

Involve elders and children as central figures in the holiday celebration itself. Encourage your elders to share their memories. Their reflections and historical viewpoints can reinforce the history and identity of the family and affirm their continuing importance in the group. Those of us in a Caregiving role have a double portion of burden and blessing. Realistic expectations, good planning, and a flexible attitude can minimize pressures and maximize holiday fun.

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