It is often felt that holidays should be happy times, with generations of traditions coming to the forefront.  We tend to celebrate the holidays, so doesn’t that mean happiness?  The reality, however, is that many people can feel isolated and lonely during this sometimes forced “season of good will”.

Elders can have an especially hard time with the holiday season.  While aging and maturity can bring wisdom of years for many people, there are inevitable losses that come to even the most healthy individuals.  Many of these losses are emotional and social in nature.  Spouses become ill and die.  Other aging relatives and friends become seriously ill, or die.

Neighborhoods change, often leaving even those well enough to remain in their own homes feeling friendless and isolated.  The holidays can bring isolation and a feeling of loneliness to a head.  You, the adult child of a parent who may seem depressed during the holidays, can do much to help.  Yes, you are busy and stressed yourself.  However, by simplifying the holiday season all around and concentrating on what really matters – people – you can offer your parent help through what can be, for some, a time of discouragement.

15 Tips to Enhance Your Elders Holidays

  • Listen and understand when they want to talk, even if the talk is negative.  They are likely mourning many of the losses mentioned above.  Don’t imply they are whining or that they should snap out of it.  They can’t.  Your empathy is vital here. Try put yourself into their place.
  • Remind them how important they are as a part of your own celebration and that of the entire family.  Be especially careful not to act like what you do for them is a duty.  This can be tough, as your tired body language can show through.  However, again, put yourself in their place.  They may feel useless and burdensome.  Remind them they are loved.
  • Holiday cards often bring bad news, and diminish in quantity.  Often these cards contain news of illness or death.  Elders are also very aware of the people they don’t hear from.  It’s very important to help them write their cards, so that they can maintain connection with life-long friends.
  • Help them see that you are trying to simplify the holidays in order to bring back the real meaning of our celebrations.  Let them know you are trying to ignore the hype that has increased over the years.  Remind them that they taught you that it’s people who count, and thank them for it.
  • If your parent is in an assisted living facility or a personal care home (PCH), check with the local schools or day care centres to see if they can bring children to visit the elders.  If there are young children in the family, take them to visit their elders and form meaningful relationships.  I often hear that families worry that it can be ‘troubling’ for a child to visit a PCH or a grandparent that is disabled or living with a dementia.  But the truth is that children are amazing at seeing though disabilities and making connections with elders in their own way. The freshness of small children’s presence can help lighten a day for an elder in physical or emotional pain.
  • If your elders’ are in a personal care home, encourage the PCH to find programs that feature children.  If possible, take the elders out to school & community programs and sporting events, especially if they feature grandchildren.
  • If your parents are in a PCH, check to see if you can take the family pets in for a visit with them.  Perhaps a local animal shelter or rescue would consider bringing in animals for the elders to hold, cuddle and enjoy.  It’s hard to resist furry faces and wagging tails!
  • Check your parents’ spiritual home.  Most churches will provide visits to the elderly both in their own homes and personal care homes.  These people undergo considerable training that provides them with tools to listen compassionately and creatively.  This can go a long way towards helping with depression over the holidays.
  • Share with your parents the wonder of technology.  Skype or facetime relatives that live afar.  My own grandmother’s enjoy the opportunity of seeing, speaking and watching their great & great-great grandchildren on my phone or computer screen.  If your elder sends a gift to a child that lives elsewhere, you can use technology to record them opening it and sending it back for viewing.
  • Decorate their home or room in stages, presenting ornaments for Christmas at intervals so there is something to look forward to.  Cherished ornaments from years gone by and family pictures of past Christmas celebrations offer an opportunity to reminisce and share memories.
  • If your elder is in a PCH, talk to the recreation department about volunteering some time during the Christmas holidays.  Many residents have no family, or family that are around them during the holidays, your presence can bring joy to others as well.  Have a hobby, share it.  Like to sing, share your beautiful voice.  This is also a good opportunity to meet the people that ‘live’ with your parent.  Assisting them with ‘making friends’ will enrich their lives and yours.
  • Bring traditional baked goods or treats regularly for your elders and their friends to share.  If they used to enjoy shortbread or Christmas pudding at this time of year, then bring it to them to enjoy now.
  • Call your elders’ friends and see if they can come to a party.  Check with the PCH and see if there is a room where you can help them entertain their friends. Please remember to include those living with a dementia in these celebrations.  They may have communication issues, but they will remember faces and they still have feelings and emotions that need to be met.
  • Make their dinner table special. Whether your parents are at home or in a PCH, try to make the table festive with some appropriate colors and themes.
  • Spend time with them.  This is the most important thing you can do.  Look at holiday photo’s or videos with them and leave them photos in a handy place so they can walk down memory lane when they are alone.  Watch Christmas movies. Play music. Listen to them reminisce.

Your time is precious to you.  You likely have a spouse, children, grandchildren and others who need you. However, your time is the most valuable gift you can give your elders during this holiday.  Do what you can without stressing yourself beyond your limits.  Your being somewhat relaxed is also important to your elders.  Remember that you won’t reach perfection and you won’t please everyone all the time.  Your best efforts will be good enough.

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