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Best Christmas Gifts for Caregivers Are Your Time, Understanding


If you have a caregiver on your Christmas gift list, think twice before choosing a sweater or tie and consider a gift of your time and understanding. Many of the estimated 65 million caregivers in the United States could desperately use—and much appreciate—respite and time away from the physical and emotional stress of caregiving.

Caregivers need time for themselves

If you are not a caregiver, try to imagine what it would feel like to be responsible for an individual who requires extensive or constant care and attention, such as someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, stroke, paralysis, or an affective disorder. The impact of providing such care can be devastating.

One recent study, for example, showed that the quality of life of “caregivers of individuals with affective disorders [major depression, bipolar] is seriously impaired, mainly because of an altered psychological or mental well-being and social life.”

Another study, published recently in Stress, reported on evidence of a link between the stress of chronic caregiving and cardiovascular disease. The authors noted that “enduring the experience of caregiving over a period of years might be associated with atherosclerotic burden.”

You could help alleviate the stress in a caregiver’s life this holiday season by following some of the suggestions offered by Michael Noe, MD, associate dean for community relations and clinical affairs in the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Public Health and Health Professions.

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Both Noe and Miriam R. Callahan, clinical assistant professor of social and preventive medicine at UB and project coordinator, Caregiver Resource Center, Erie County Senior Services, are part of a project called Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a joint project of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and the Erie County Caregiver Coalition.

Some of the holiday gift suggestions for caregivers offered by Noe and Callahan include the following:

  • Time. Make a formal promise—perhaps in the form of a personalized gift certificate—to stay with the care recipient so the caregiver can have some time to him or herself. The offer of time could be a one-time or multiple-time promise; for example, a certificate that promises to stay with the care recipient for two hours every Friday afternoon or on the first Saturday morning of every month for one year.
  • Personal pampering. A gift certificate for some personal pampering for the caregiver, such as a massage, spa day, or hair salon, along with arrangements for someone to stay with the care recipient, can help caregivers relieve some of their stress.
  • Entertainment. Make a formal promise to take the caregiver out to a favorite restaurant, movie, concert, play, or even a day trip and arrange to have the care recipient cared for while you and the caregiver are away.
  • Services. Make a formal promise to provide services that the caregiver typically needs to do (or get a gift certificate for a professional to provide the services), such as housekeeping, landscaping or gardening, cooking (delivery of prepared meals is a nice gift), or snow shoveling.
  • Gifts that make caregiving easier. These gifts will depend on the needs of the care recipient. Some ideas are portable grab bars (or permanent grab bars—you could purchase and install them for the caregiver), a baby monitor (both audio and video functions are now available), adaptive clothing (makes it easier for caregivers to dress the care recipient), respite videos (available for people with dementia from the Alzheimer’s Association and similar organizations), and books written by other caregivers.

Another important gift family and friends can offer caregivers is to listen and communicate. Noe noted that “Often, caregivers don’t get the kind of cooperation they need from family members or friends, so they can end up feeling isolated.”

Therefore, the best Christmas gifts for the caregiver on your list can be you and your time, understanding, and your willingness to listen. Wrap it up in a personalized gift certificate, be there to communicate, and you will make a big difference in a caregiver’s life.

Roepke SK et al. Stress 2011 Jul 26
University at Buffalo
Zendjidjian X et al. Journal of Affective Disorders 2011 Nov 17

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons