The Art of Living

7 tips to create happier holidays for seniors with special needs or health issues

For most of us the holidays are a wonderful time to share the joys of family life and friendship. But for many older adults the holidays can be highly stressful, confusing, or even depressing if their mental, physical and emotional needs are not taken into account.

If you have older friends and family members with underlying health issues, you can help them enjoy the holiday season more by following these simple tips:

1. Stroll down memory lane. Holidays provoke memories, which can be especially powerful in the later years of life. Older people whose memories are impaired may have difficulty remembering recent events, but they are often able to share stories and observations from the past. These shared memories are important for the young as well—children enjoy hearing about how it was when their grandparents were their age.

2. Plan ahead. If older family members tire easily or are vulnerable to over-stimulation, limit the number of activities they are involved in or the length of time they are included. The noise and confusion of a large family gathering can lead to irritability or exhaustion. Plan to schedule time for a nap, if necessary, or consider designating a “quiet room” where an older person can take a break.

3. Eliminate obstacles. If a holiday get-together is held in the home of an older person with memory impairment or behavioral problems, don’t rearrange the furniture. This could be a source of confusion and anxiety. If the gathering is in a place unfamiliar to an older person, remove slippery throw rugs and other
items that could present barriers to someone with balance problems or who has difficulty walking.

4. Create new memories. In addition to memories, seniors need new things to anticipate. Add something new to the holiday celebration. You may also consider volunteering for your family to help others. Enjoy activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations, or window-shopping at the mall or along a festive downtown street.

5. Be inclusive. Involve everyone in holiday meal preparation, breaking down tasks to include the youngest and oldest family members. Older adults with physical limitations can still be included in kitchen activities by asking them to do a simple, helpful task, like greasing cooking pans, peeling vegetables, folding napkins or arranging flowers.

6. Reach out. Social connectedness is especially important at holiday times. Reaching out to older relatives and friends who are alone is something all of us can do. Loneliness is a difficult emotion for anyone.

7. Monitor medications and alcohol. If you have senior family members, be sure to help them adhere to their regular schedule of medications during the frenzy of the holidays. With additional activities and celebrations it can be challenging to remember their normal routines.

By using these guidelines you can help alleviate unnecessary stress during the holiday season for your aging loved ones. Planning ahead can help you enjoy a productive and prosperous holiday season that includes everyone.

LEAH GROUT