Holidays are a joyous time for families and celebration. However, the holidays can also be stressful and can pose some challenges for older adults and their families. For seniors with mobility issues or Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the holidays can bring forth a range of negative emotions such as holiday depression, loneliness, inadequacies and guilt about feeling like a burden.
We have gathered some tips to help you make the holidays enjoyable for your older loved ones and the rest of your family.
Keep Family Traditions
What are the holiday traditions that you remember from your youth? Who are the people who created those memories for you? For your parent or older adult, the memories they helped create are often the ones that sustain them in their older years. Try to incorporate some of these important holiday traditions into your celebration. Loved ones with memory challenges often relive the feeling of the holidays through the scents and tastes of the season.
Create New Traditions
If traveling or other activities that would now be difficult for your aging loved ones are part of your family traditions, it may be time to discuss creating new traditions that everyone can participate in. Instead of aging parents traveling to adult children and grandkids, consider bringing the family to them. Simple decorating activities, baking, holiday crafts, and inviting friends and neighbors over for small gatherings can also brighten the mood of your aging loved one. Involve the grandchildren in these activities for a little extra special bonding time. If your loved one lives in an assisted living community, check in with the staff to see if they are hosting any holiday activities. Even when family is nearby, many caregivers encourage elders who live in senior housing to participate in onsite activities to alleviate the stress involved in attending family gatherings. Leaving the familiarity of senior housing can be very disorienting for seniors who are living with progressing cognitive decline. Instead, arrange for family to visit or accompany your elder to the facility’s event(s) as part of your new holiday traditions together.
Many times, it isn’t the holiday itself that causes feelings of depression, but rather that the holidays may bring memories of happier times. If this seems to be the case, activities such as watching home movies together or looking through old pictures as a group can be a nice way to remember those times as a family to help alleviate feelings of loneliness in an aging loved one. Reminiscing can be an enjoyable activity for everyone and a valuable way of sharing memories and family history with younger generations. You can even take the opportunity to have the grandchildren interview older loved ones to preserve family history.
If an elder loved one lives far away, or if an in-person visit truly doesn’t seem possible this year, make sure you plan ahead to ensure they will not be spending the holidays alone. If your loved one is living on their own, try to see if one of their neighbors might be able to visit with them.
This might also be the time to contact HomeSpark for in-home care, even if the arrangement is only temporary. HomeSpark caregivers can help with companionship, meal preparation, transportation and many other activities of daily living (ADLs).
Create a calm and safe space by toning down decorations. Avoid blinking lights, fragile decorations or large decorations that cause you to rearrange a familiar room. Use electric candles in place of burning candles and avoid decorations that can be confused as edible treats. Large groups can be overwhelming for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Provide a quiet place for people to visit with your older loved one in small groups or one on one. If your loved one resides at a care facility, it may be best to visit with them there, as a change in environment can cause distress. Arrange for family members to visit at different times to avoid overwhelming your loved one.
Taking Care of Yourself
Taking time for yourself is crucial. If you are a family caregiver, trying to care for an elder loved one and plan a family holiday can cause a lot of stress and eventually, burnout. Follow these tips to make sure you are taking care of yourself.
- Pick and choose. Focus on the holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you. Remember that you can't do it all.
- Manage others' expectations. Set realistic expectations for what you can contribute to family holiday celebrations.
- Delegate. Let family and friends help with cleaning, addressing cards and shopping for gifts.
- Make time for yourself. Contact HomeSpark to give you a break so that you can enjoy a holiday outing without caregiving responsibilities. Our caregivers are trained in dementia care and will provide respite care so you can enjoy some time without caregiver responsibilities.
Holiday traditions and activities can be adapted in countless ways, and flexibility can help ensure your plans are successful. Regardless of whether you are able to visit with the whole family or you must bring in professional caregivers to ensure your elders aren’t spending the holidays alone, the most important thing is for your loved ones to know that you are thinking of them and committed to helping them feel included in the festivities.