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Give yourself the gift of time

December 10, 2015
Lisa M. Petsche

People who care for loved ones with frail health typically have a multitude of responsibilities: Shopping, running errands, paying bills among them. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done, let alone spend time with other important people in their life and tend to their own needs.

If you are a caregiver, the best gift you can receive this Christmas season is the gift of time: time to attend to your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs in order to keep the inherent stress of caregiving manageable.

Consider personal time a need rather than a luxury and resolve to make it an ongoing gift to yourself. Don’t wait for New Year’s Day to get started: Right now is a good time, as Christmas festivities ramp up.

During the holidays set realistic expectations and be prepared to alter traditions. Keep it simple and let relatives and friends know your needs and limitations. Decide what is really important to you, focus on that and forget the rest.

Whatever tasks you decide to take on, ask for help and delegate responsibilities. Make plans and start necessary preparations well in advance. Make lists to stay organized, and keep them handy.

If you plan to have guests and your finances allow, arrange a housecleaning or a catered meal. You may also make it a potluck event or ask someone else to host the big family feast. Invite friends over for dessert instead of a meal, and don’t hesitate to buy from a bakery.

For gift giving, purchase gift cards. If you buy gifts at the mall, take advantage of the gift wrapping service.

Think along these lines as the year continues:

Curb perfectionism. Not everything needs to be done to a high standard like housework and yard maintenance. Set a time limit for chores if necessary.

Establish and stick to priorities, so you don’t waste time or energy on unimportant things. Accept offers of help and ask other family members to share the load. Be specific about what you need.

Pay for help if you can afford it such as a dog walker or housecleaning service.

Get a portable phone so you can multitask while conversing, and an answering machine to screen calls. Hire a professional organizer if you are overwhelmed by paper or clutter.

Get a computer if you don’t have one. Internet access can help you stay connected to loved ones. You can also connect with other caregivers through Internet message boards and chat rooms.

Concentrate cleaning and tidying efforts on the rooms that are used the most. Collect recipes for one-dish meals, such as casseroles, stews, stir fries and main course salads. Cook double batches of recipes and freeze half for later use.

Keep a supply of heat-and-serve entrees in the freezer. Buy convenience foods that reduce preparation time: packaged salads, shredded cheese, frozen mixed vegetables and boneless chicken breasts.

Arrange with the bank for direct deposit of pension and other checks and automatic withdrawal of regular bills. If you have a computer, sign up for online banking so you can pay bills, transfer money and check balances from home.

Shop by mail order whenever possible. Take advantage of stores and other services that offer home delivery. Research mobile services in your area, such as hairdressing, dog grooming, car washing.

Consolidate errands and avoid peak use times when visiting stores, banks, government offices and other establishments.

Investigate available community respite services, such as friendly visiting, adult day care programs. Look into volunteer driver programs and accessible transportation services that can free you up from chauffeuring duties. Information can often be obtained from the local office on aging.

If finances permit, hire a companion or personal support worker for your relative so you can regularly get out to a club, class or some other leisure activity. Let loved ones know that a gift certificate to a home care agency or an IOU for respite care would be welcomed for Christmas or other special occasions.

Petsche is a social worker with personal and professional experience in elder care.

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