The holidays can be a warm and wonderful time to spend with family and friends. At the same time, it can be challenging to include loved ones, many of whom are seniors suffering from dementia, chronic illnesses and losses of significant others.
In addition, many seniors don’t feel they belong at holiday celebrations or that it is too hard for them to find ways to attend. Fortunately, there are many ways for seniors who are dealing with physical and/or emotional challenges to participate in the holiday season.
Loss of a Loved One
The holidays can be an especially hard time for those who have lost a close loved one. It may be difficult for them to reflect on the many happy traditions they shared over the years.
As such, it is common to experience bereavement symptoms that one has not felt for a period of time. The individual may not want to participate in holiday gatherings, decorations and shy away from others who appear to be enjoying holiday preparations. Don’t assume that the loved one is OK.
- Be empathetic about how hard it may be to spend the holiday without the individual’s significant other or loved one.
- Encourage the loved one to find ways to incorporate old holiday traditions into their new celebrations.
- Talk about the loss of the individual with the loved one.
- Encourage the individual to attend holiday events even if it is difficult.
- Encourage the individual to attend counseling with a therapist, religious adviser, etc.
- Encourage the individual to spend time outside their home, especially in volunteer activities, since this may help reduce low feelings.
Bring the Holidays to Them
Another challenge for seniors is the difficulty of traveling. The challenge may be due to walking, climbing steps, long periods in cars, air travel, etc.
If traveling is too difficult for your senior loved one, there are many ways to bring holiday cheer and tradition to them. If distance is not an issue, you can bring the meal to your family member. Your family can celebrate the holiday feast at their home or senior facility. Prior to the meal, consider decorating your family member’s home so they can feel included in the celebration. This is a way to avoid unnecessary travel and inconvenience for the senior.
If your loved one is living at a senior facility, see if you can use a room in the facility for your holiday meal. This can make the meal more special and private.
If your family is unable to celebrate on the actual holiday, celebrate on another day. Many families celebrate throughout the holiday season. If distance is an issue, consider using various social media platforms or simply a phone call to communicate.
Send pictures to your loved one so that she can keep up to date with changes in the family. Also, check to see if there are friends or other family members who reside near your loved one who can visit during the holiday if you live far away.
Modify the Holiday for Elderly Seniors
Most elderly seniors want to continue celebrating holidays and enjoying traditions. If there are cognitive limitations, be creative and find ways to modify the task and involvement. Holidays for seniors can still involve sharing recipes, family stories and memories, and listening to holiday songs.
If the senior is unable to stand and cook or can’t remember the recipe, then find a way to modify the task. Possibly the elderly senior with dementia can help stir the ingredients in the bowl or the senior who can’t stand for a period of time can sit and help read the ingredients to you.
Physical and Mental Changes
Don’t worry about hiding the changes in your senior loved one from children and other family members. Seniors are usually well aware of family member’s attempts not to acknowledge their physical and/or mental changes.
It is important to be honest with family members and children about these changes. This will help prepare the family members for the best way to communicate and handle both physical and emotional changes.
Also, don’t underestimate children’s ability to deal with changes. Children may initially be reserved but will quickly adapt to the changes and relate to the senior. Introduce and explain the use of walkers, wheelchairs and other pieces of adaptive equipment, including oxygen. By explaining the purpose of equipment and devices, the fear is reduced and the mystery is removed.
At the same time, don’t hide changes from your senior loved one and treat them like children. Seniors also need to know about any health issues, marital and/or financial changes in the family.
Welcome and include your senior loved one into the family holiday season. Remember that holidays are difficult times for many people, especially those that have lost a loved one or may be suffering from a chronic illness. Holidays events can take planning and effort in order to include your senior loved ones in your life.
Help make the seniors in your life feel that they do fit into your celebrations. Remember that there will unfortunately come a time in our lives when we will feel that we don’t fit in.
Take the extra time to make special accommodations for senior loved ones. The seniors in your life can bring an additional level of tradition, memories and warmth to your family and friends.
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is an Abramson Senior Care psychologist.