Supporting Seniors During the Holidays

supporting seniors holidays

However your family celebrates, it’s hard to deny the joy of being with loved ones – including Seniors – during the holidays. Understandably, some families may be worried about how to best include and support their Senior during the holidays, especially when it comes to celebratory events. Seniors may be facing health conditions, cognitive changes, or safety concerns that make it more challenging for them to join in holiday celebrations. And you may not be sure of how to support your Senior’s needs, especially when doing so can impact how you experience the holidays. You may be wondering things like:

  • Will my spouse be offended if I offer to help them up an icy step at the Kim’s house for Christmas dinner?
  • I really want to enjoy myself at the Johnson’s New Year’s without worrying about Dad, but it’s always loud and he doesn’t hear well
  • Mom’s dementia is becoming worse and we’re not sure how to explain to the grandkids what’s going on when she sees them at Hanukkah.

We’ve compiled a list of our top 5 ways to support Seniors during the holidays:

1. Set your Senior up for success

When you consider who will be at your holiday gatherings, there are probably lots of things you already do to help folks have an enjoyable time: Cousin Alex is gluten-free, so they’ve got their own tray of cornbread; the Patels have a young baby, so dinner will be early; and you’ve dusted off the air hockey table so the teens have something to do besides look at their phones. 

Here are some ideas to do the same for your Senior:

  • Is your Senior hard of hearing? Keep the music low, and make sure there are chairs placed in quieter spaces so they can chat with others distraction-free.
  • Does your Senior have low vision? Use colorful tape on the edge of steps (inside and outside the home) and give them a plate that is of a contrasting color to the food served – even if it doesn’t match the special holiday dishes.
  • Does your Senior use a mobility device? Ensure that all rug edges are fastened down and make sure furniture placement leaves an ample path to walk or roll through.

The above suggestions should give you an idea of how to set up your gathering so that everyone – Seniors included – can enjoy themselves.

2. Reminisce with your Senior

Reminiscing is enjoyable for most people, but especially Seniors. Most older adults enjoy telling stories about their past, especially to younger generations. For Seniors with hearing impairments, it is easier to talk about familiar topics than newer ones. And for Seniors with cognitive changes, reminiscing gives them an opportunity to feel pride during a conversation – and not have to worry about being able to “keep up.” You can ask about things like:

  • How they celebrated the holidays when they were younger
  • What special foods were included in their holiday celebrations
  • What are their favorite holiday traditions

For another look into reminiscence, check out this news piece about Terra Vista’s “Memory Tree” to help Seniors with dementia connect with their loved ones during the holidays.

3. Feel okay about modifying your Senior’s celebration

Holiday celebrations can be overwhelming: New places, lots of people, increased noise and other stimulation. For many Seniors, especially those with memory and cognitive impairments, special gatherings can pose an unexpected challenge. While many families feel badly at the thought of not including an elderly loved one in a special celebration, it’s important to know that sometimes keeping them in their routine – or modifying their participation in the celebration – is truly the best thing for them. 

For a Senior who benefits from routine and familiarity and struggles with managing during novel activities, we recommend:

  • Instead of bringing them to a celebration, bring a smaller version of the celebration to them. For example, include 2-3 favorite foods, activities, or decorations. 
  • Arranging for them to have a designated support person at all times during the celebration, whether it be a family member or a professional caregiver. (And for more info on professional caregiving services, check out our post series starting here.)
  • Supporting them in attending just part of a celebration where there are less people and activities, versus having them stay the entire time. 

4. Acknowledging sorrow

While the holidays are often a time of joy and celebration, for some Seniors they can bring about feelings of sorrow. Seniors may be missing loved ones who have passed, longing for holiday traditions of their younger years, or reflecting on the passing of time and what it means for their health and well-being. If your Senior is comfortable talking about their feelings, give them the gift of active listening. And even if they don’t want to share how they’re feeling, acknowledge that they may have the holiday blues and give them time and space to process. For more information about sorrow in older adults during the holidays, check out this article.

5. Collaborate with others

No matter how you are helping your Senior have a wonderful holiday, it’s hard to do alone. Engage friends and family in supporting your Senior during the season, especially with celebratory events. When more people can share in helping a loved one experience joy, the experience becomes richer for all involved. And when supporting a Senior during the holidays feels like a burden, there are more to carry the load. 

For families who are struggling with supporting a Senior, or who notice concerning changes during holiday gatherings, reach out today to learn more about our geriatric care management services.

However you celebrate this season, a very happy holidays from ACE Senior Care Navigators!