The holiday season is such a wonderful time to spend with family and friends. But sometimes for the elderly, the holiday season can be depressing, stressful, and sometimes confusing if their physical, emotional, and at times, mental needs are not addressed.
As a nurse, I have seen many elderly patients become depressed during the holidays. But as a grandchild of a 97 year old grandmother with restricted mobility, I see it happen at every holiday celebration.
For many seniors, including my grandmother, the holidays serve as a reminder of those that have passed on and how lonely he/she may be today. The holidays may also remind them of their inabilities to participate in celebrations, and how they can’t do the things they used to so easily anymore. My grandmother used to cook Thanksgiving dinner every year. She also used to make her favorite sugar cookies and send each of us a bin our own bin of cookies. She loved to entertain and cook, but cannot do it anymore.
The struggle that we, as “caretakers” of aging parents have, is to provide a way for our elders to enjoy the holidays, but their circumstances can be a little challenging. The solution is to be present and include your elders by having them participate in as many activities as they can. Make sure your loved one feels a sense of belonging, or self-worth. Make them feel special by including them in holiday planning, dinner preparation, decorating, or even filling out holiday cards.
To make sure their holiday season (and yours) stays “merry and bright,” here are a seven things to keep in mind when caring for your elders:
1) Respect your senior’s schedule. If they are used to waking up, eating, or going to bed at a certain time, follow their schedule as much as possible. Staying up later or eating meals later can be difficult and cause unneeded stress. Ask about their schedule before planning your holiday gathering.
2) Older family members get tired very easily. Limit the number of activities or the length of time they are involved in each activity. Since noise and confusion of a large family gathering can lead to exhaustion, designate a “room to nap” where they can lay down and sleep. Be sure someone acts as a companion, making sure the senior is comfortable.
3) If you are planning to bring the holiday crowd to the home of an older person with memory impairment or behavioral problems, do not rearrange their furniture. This could confuse the person and cause anxiety. If the gathering is in another home, remove all slippery throw rugs and other items that could pose a threat to someone who has difficulty walking or has balance problems.
5) If an older adult has physical limitations but wants to help with the holiday preparation, have them do simple but helpful tasks like greasing pans, folding napkins, sorting silverware, arranging flowers, or handing you the ornaments when decorating the tree.
6) Reminisce about old memories. “Remembering when…” can stimulate memories which will help seniors share their past experiences and tell their stories to family members of all ages. Avoid any comments that might embarrass them, such as, “don’t you remember?”
7) In addition to memories, seniors need new things to look forward to. Add something new to the holiday celebration, go window shopping, take a drive to see festive holiday decorations, or listen to the sounds of the season at a local restaurant.
8) Since most seniors are confined indoors, make sure their day contains activities that increase their exposure to daylight.
Remember, not every moment will be a delight, but don’t fret! Giving your elders your time, attention and love is their best holiday gift.