Today, families are more geographically scattered than ever. Social media provides one way of staying in touch, but there is still something special and irreplaceable about seeing your senior loved ones engaged and in-person at holiday gatherings.
Please keep in mind that your senior loved ones can be particularly susceptible to feelings of loneliness, separation, and depression during the holidays. However, with some thoughtful planning, they too can experience the joy of the holiday and being with loved ones.
Tara Burrow, Life Enrichment Coordinator at Bethesda Hawthorne Place, an Assisted Living and Memory Care community in the St. Louis area, has some suggestions for making the holidays special for senior loved ones.
Prepare Holiday Gatherings and Details in Advance
As you plan your holiday gatherings, be sure to make arrangements and accommodations for your senior loved ones well ahead of time.
The location of the gathering is very important, especially for seniors with dementia. Tara notes that this population may be more comfortable staying in their own homes. “It depends upon their level of dementia,” she says. “If it is more advanced, leaving their home can be confusing and stressful.”
If held in the loved one’s home, spend time thinking about the preparations, and include them in the preparations, even if they are living with dementia. “You can ask Mom to find a recipe that can be used at the party while you vacuum the living room. Remind her she has some great recipes and that you’ll be in the living room and out of her way,” Tara says.
If the holiday celebration will be at a relative’s home or another location, check for potential hazards like stairs, stray electrical cords, raised carpeting or mats, and seating that may be difficult or dangerous for a senior adult to use due to design or placement. “For example, it’s a good idea to not seat seniors near walkways where children will be running back and forth,” Tara says. “Make adjustments ahead of time so your senior loved ones don’t become embarrassed by last-minute fussing over arrangements for them.”
Also, be sure they have their medications with them and you are familiar with when they should take them.
Tara also recommends that if the senior is living in an assisted living or senior care community, discussions should be held with the community’s staff to better understand what is best for celebrating the holidays.
To Keep Seniors Interested, Get Them Involved!
“Remember your parents or grandparents will probably want to help prepare for the holiday gathering,” says Tara. “If they are able, ask them to help stir the potatoes or set the table. It gives them a sense of purpose. Remember, in the past, they were the planners, arrangers, caregivers, and cooks of the family.”
It is easy to be focused on the details of the party while trying very hard to make everything perfect. Just remember why you gathered together in the first place. “If Grandma spills something in the kitchen, it doesn’t matter,” says Tara. “What matters are the moments you shared with her that day.”
Think About the Setting
“When planning holiday gatherings that include senior loved ones, be aware of the setting,” Tara says. “Everyone is talking, music may be playing, dishes clinking—it’s loud. If your senior loved one is dealing with a cognitive issue or is hearing impaired, it can be overstimulating… or they may not join in because they don’t hear or understand what is going on.”
Some strategies to help them sort through the situation, and make sure they feel involved:
- Talk a little slower, but not insultingly slow.
- Face the senior when talking to them.
- Give them time to respond.
- Invite them into a quieter room for a moment to talk.
Activities to Keep Senior Loved Ones Engaged at Holiday Gatherings
It’s easy to get carried away in conversation or loud gift exchanges, but be sure to include some quality family time that your parents or grandparents will be happy to participate in.
Tara suggests bringing out an old photo album to review with your senior loved ones. “Give them an opportunity to talk about family members,” she says. “You may learn something about your family that you didn’t know.”
If the senior has some level of dementia, they may not recall all the family information accurately, but Tara emphasizes that it doesn’t matter. “Your Mom might point to a photo of her son and call him her brother. Instead of correcting her and making the moment more confusing, let her talk through it. Maybe she is saying ‘brother’ when she means the word ‘son.’ Regardless, live in her moment with her, otherwise, she may become upset and shut down because she feels you aren’t listening.”
Singing old familiar songs is another great idea to keep your senior loved ones engaged with the whole family. After dinner, take a leisurely drive to look at holiday lights. Or, if playing games is a family holiday tradition, then play them!
Holiday Support for Family Caregivers
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season upon us, don’t forget about your senior loved ones. If you need a helping hand this holiday season, Bethesda offers solutions that make things easier for family caregivers.
Contact us to learn more about our Respite Care service, which allows senior caregivers to take a break during this hectic season.
Happy Holidays from Bethesda!