What an excellent question! It is a challenge to make your loved one feel like he or she is a part of the holiday fun without overwhelming him or her (or yourself, for that matter). Take a moment to reflect on some of the challenges your loved one may be experiencing and then determine ways of including seniors that work for them and you.
When All Is Not Merry and Bright
The holidays can be a difficult time of year for some people, and seniors are especially prone to feeling isolated, sad, and lonely during this season. If your loved one also has a chronic medical condition or dementia, he or she may not be able to adapt easily to changes in diet or routine, making it even more complicated to include him or her in family gatherings or other planned activities.
That doesn’t mean you should leave your senior out of the fun, but you may need to make a few changes to make it work. Find times other than meals to get together so that your senior can stick to a regular diet. You may also want to avoid late nights or any other activities that interfere with your senior’s schedule because big changes in a routine can be disorienting and stressful.
One of the best ways of including seniors is by talking with your loved one about how they like to celebrate. See what traditions he or she may remember or think makes the holidays special. If decorations brighten the mood, you could spruce up your loved one’s room with a treasured heirloom, small tree, or even a poinsettia or Christmas cactus. If holiday music is your senior’s bag, you could take him or her to a local concert if able or just play some of the classic carols he or she may enjoy.
You can also try some simple activities to celebrate, such as sending holiday cards or baking together. A senior may not be able to follow a recipe alone but could possibly help measure ingredients or decorate cookies; signing cards while you address them may be another way your senior can contribute. The activity is not as important to your loved one as the time spent together, especially if he or she feels valued and useful. If you focus on just one or two things that make the holidays special, you can create small traditions that involve your loved one.
Break Out the Albums
How often do you go through old photo albums with your mom or dad? The holidays are a great time to reminisce and reflect. Carve out an afternoon when you and your senior can look at pictures and see what he or she may remember.
Try to get other family members and generations involved in quality time but keep it simple. Instead of a large gathering, have one or two grandchildren or friends pay a short visit and encourage your senior to tell stories from his or her past. You never know what you might learn, even if the stories are not 100 percent accurate. You can plan visits around your senior’s routine to find times in the day when he or she may be more alert and agreeable.
Back to the Basics
Including seniors should be a natural way to celebrate the holidays, which may mean less stress for you too. Everything does not have to be perfect or over-the-top to be special; in fact, a simple, paired-down version of your holidays may make it easier for everyone. Less food, less shopping, less spending, less drinking can equal more rest, more relaxation, and more enjoyment. A simplified approach to your holidays could be your new family tradition!
Make Every Gift Count
Your loved one probably has few material needs, but a small gift may still be appreciated. Everyone likes to open a festive present, and chances are good that your senior hasn’t received a gift in a while. A nice hand lotion or puzzle book may fit the bill nicely, just enough to make him or her feel loved.
The best gifts are often the ones money can’t buy: your time and attention. Your loved one may appreciate more than a rushed visit with you, other family members, or friends. Maybe some of the time you save by doing less could be spent with your mom or dad, just being together.
I hope these tips help you do more than just survive the rest of the year, but actually enjoy the holiday season. Best of luck to you and your family, and Happy Holidays!