Ten Tips For Helping Your Elderly Loved One Navigate the Holidays During a Pandemic
The holiday season can be difficult enough for the elderly in our families and communities, but adding COVID-19 seems to have exacerbated things, as many medical organizations emphasize, and in some cases, even mandate isolation of the elderly who may be more susceptible to the virus.
Forced isolation comes at a difficult time as the holiday season tends to be the most anticipated time to gather and celebrate the traditions passed down by these amazing patriarchs and matriarchs of our families. No doubt, the 2020 holiday season will look utterly different from those in previous years. But why are the holidays a lonely time for seniors?
Aging comes with its own unique set of hurdles. Besides the physical challenges that come with later stages of aging, seniors must often deal with fixed incomes, inability to travel by themselves in some cases, and the more frequent loss of companions who pass away. Under normal circumstances, the holidays have a way of amplifying issues that we face. Sadly, loneliness is one of the biggest fears the elderly face during this time of year.
“According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), older adults who are socially isolated are at higher risk for depression.”
How can we help those older family members experience joy, love, and companionship during the holidays and avoid depression?
- Stop, look, smile, and listen. The holidays will inevitably keep everyone on their toes, staying busy and tying up all the last minute details, especially if you are entertaining. It is usually during the shuffle that seniors feel neglected. While it may seem impractical to do so, especially when you have guests arriving any minute now, take a moment to stop, look your senior in the eyes, smile, and listen. What you may find is that you become the recipient of encouragement instead of the giver. It is an excellent opportunity for you to lend an empathetic ear at the end of a tumultuous year. Engaging with seniors helps them feel important, involved and can even thwart feelings of depression that often accompany the inability to help out during the holidays.
- When appropriate to do so, remind your senior family member that the holidays would be impossible if not for them. After all, they are the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family and have been mostly responsible for the traditions we now enjoy. With all of the activity that accompanies holiday celebrations, your elderly may feel left out. It is good to involve them in any way you can. For example, if you and your family have a scrimmage after Thanksgiving dinner, it might not be best to let Great Grampa play quarterback. Still, it might prove beneficial to allow him to participate and be the scorekeeper (especially if you fancy yourself as his favorite).
- Many of the elderly in our society are quite adept at acclimating to new technology; many have their mobile phones, tablets, and laptops and can use them proficiently. However, many of our seniors grew up in an era where a hand-written card or letter meant the world to the recipients. An excellent idea for the holiday season is to plan and execute a greeting card day where you invite your senior family members to make a list of people they would like to send holiday cards to and then help them write and send these cards. Remembering others will prove to be a wonderful stroll down memory lane as you talk and write together. It is an excellent opportunity to get your own cards out as well.
- The holidays come with their own trappings, lights, food, gifts, and parties often fail to focus on the reason for the season. It is an excellent time to sit back during these events and listen to sage wisdom, which only comes from the insights and perspective of one who has experienced the treasure of time. If possible, invite your seniors to tell stories of holidays passed and how traditions helped shape their values and yours. Be sure to thank them for the contributions they have made to your family history.
Many seniors find themselves in long-term care facilities in the later stages of life. Family members must investigate the kinds of available activities for their senior family members and discover opportunities to visit and get involved over the holiday season. Seniors crave attention and conversation just like younger people, but our seniors often feel left out and neglected because of their physical circumstances and venue. If you and your family can get involved with events at the facility, it can go a long way in helping your senior feel like they are a part of things.
- Many are not aware that the term “holiday” finds its origins from a combination of two words combined, “holy” and “day,” which simply means a day that is “set apart” from others. It isn’t easy to separate holidays from their religious origins; in fact, many holidays are observed as religious holidays as well. That said, it is a good practice to check with your loved one’s religious organization to discover ways to get their affiliated organization involved during the holidays. For example, there are dedicated ministries in many Christian churches that offer visitation and might even bring your loved one gifts during the holidays. These kinds of ministries prove helpful, mostly if your loved one lives in another part of the country or where visitation might be limited due to the pandemic.
- As with your own home, decorative touches augment the feelings associated with the holidays. Festive decorations and seasonal splashes of color and lights are often the scenes in many homes worldwide. If your loved one is a long-term facility, check with the care providers to see if you can make a special day of coming in decorating your loved one’s room for the holidays. It can be a real blessing to your loved one to unpack decorations such as Christmas tree ornaments, for example, that have associated memories. These kinds of special moments open the door to sharing cherished memories and can be quite therapeutic.
- As with most holidays, food seems to be a central theme. The holidays can be a great time to break out the family recipes and cook or bake your favorite holiday dishes together. In instances where your senior cannot participate, you might consider making preparations alone or cooking with younger family members and bringing the treat to your loved one. Knowing that the recipes they have made over the decades get passed on to successive generations is a source of pride and warm fuzzies for your loved ones as they see traditions become legacy. Your loved one may have dietary constraints, so check with their physicians or caregiver first.
- 2020 will undoubtedly be a year to remember in our generation, but our loved ones have seen many life-changing events throughout their own lives if you think about it. One of those life-changing events came with the advent of the Internet. Since 2020 has brought with it a pandemic and social gatherings are limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it might be advantageous to utilize the Internet to have virtual gatherings where face-to-face gatherings are limited. You may need to coordinate with your loved one’s care facility to facilitate this, as newer technologies may prove too daunting for your loved one to navigate alone.
- The biggest takeaway we can leave you with is simply to take the time to make your elderly loved one feel loved and included in the celebrations to the best of your abilities. Time spent on something as simple as going through old photos, listening to seasonal music together, or just having a pleasant conversation can make all the difference in their lives. The key ingredient for helping your elderly loved one feel fulfilled during the holidays is time together with them.
- The time commitment involved with holiday plans can be overwhelming by themselves. With COVID-19 a present consideration, even the most mundane tasks can become cumbersome. Caring for the elderly can be difficult for you during typical times of the year, but add the holidays and a pandemic. Immediately, our attentions become divided, and our time becomes a precious commodity, albeit a limited one.
Making time for your elderly loved ones will help sustain their legacy, provide much needed emotional support. It can hopefully empower your loved one to start another year on their fantastic journey through life.