My advice for this holiday season is not entirely different than it is for every holiday season: less is more. Every year, families go above and beyond to try to top the year before, with bigger gatherings, rich meals, lavish gifts, and over-the-top decorations. Underlying all this excess is a level of stress and high expectations that we all could do without.
This year has forced many families to rethink how celebrating holidays with seniors during Covid should look. While you may have to work around some traditions, you can still mark the occasion with meaning and enjoyment. Here are my suggestions for activities to include your elderly loved ones in the holiday fun while staying compliant with the Centers for Disease Control’s Covid safety recommendations.
The Big Basics
Begin by considering what the CDC advises for the holidays. First and foremost, assess the risk for your family. Does your loved one have advanced age and other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory limitations, cancer, obesity, or diabetes? Is your community having a surge in active Covid cases? If your senior is at high risk, as most are, then you may want to forego extended family get-togethers and postpone any travel this year.
Next, remember that the same sanitary protocols have not changed. Everyone should still be wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining physical distance to limit the spread of the virus. Even after a long year of these behaviors, everyone should stay vigilant and adhere to these precautions, especially now that flu season is also upon us.
Finally, give some thought to your family’s circumstances. Do you have a small family? Are you working from home and limiting outside contact to a small bubble? Are those people also committed to limited social interactions? If you are confident that everyone has been practicing the same safety measures, you may feel better about limited visits or activities. Have a family discussion about it so that you are all on the same page and include your senior if he or she is aware of this year’s circumstances.
A Special Time
The challenge we face this year is celebrating holidays with seniors during Covid that does not endanger your loved ones yet still has some semblance of normal, and it takes some creativity to pull this off. If you do decide to hold family gatherings, limit the number of people in attendance as well as the length of time; short and sweet is better than large and lengthy. If the weather cooperates, consider holding your celebration outdoors where the risk of spread is reduced.
As far as your loved one goes, he or she may not be safe to join in, and that is okay. If you, a caregiver, or other family member is in physical contact with your senior, you or that person can be a designated companion throughout the holidays. As a companion, you would be distanced from the rest of the gatherings, but you could spend quality time with your senior and assist with virtual visits and phone calls. You could also bring and share special treats with your loved one so he or she still feels some of that holiday spirit.
Other alternatives to in-person contact can include these ideas:
- Reading a classic story or holiday-themed book virtually
- Decorating your senior’s home or room with favorite festive touches
- Watching a movie while video chatting
- Sharing recipes or cooking traditional foods and dropping them off to be shared from a distance
- Ordering special meals for delivery and dining together via video chat
With one or two people in contact with a loved one, these virtual events can be possible, especially for those seniors who are not able to manage technology independently.
With a designated holiday companion, you and your family can take a bit of the stress out of how to include your loved one, but you also solve some of the problems caused by this extended isolation. Seniors are likely to develop depression and anxiety in the long winter months when outdoor activities are limited. Add to that this long year of quarantine, and you may notice the toll it has taken on your loved one.
If everyone agrees and sticks to this scaled-back version of the holidays, you may find that celebrating holidays with seniors during Covid is possible, simple, and relaxing. Who knows, you and your family may create new traditions that you’ll want to keep year after year that focus more on connections and less on commercialism.
Best of luck, and the happiest of holidays!