Holidays can be both a joyful and a stressful time for all of us, no matter what stage of life we’re in. But as a family member ages, it can become more and more difficult to continue the family traditions everyone expects, and at the same time juggle our elderly loved one’s mental, physical and emotional needs. Caregivers often struggle with how to plan meals and family gatherings that won’t be highly stressful, confusing or even depressing for an elderly family member, but at the same time will meet the hopes and expectations of others.
Solutions vary based on the health, mental, and mobility issues of your elderly family member, but at least some of these 10 tips could help families and a loved one they care for find more joy during the holidays:
- Simplify your holiday season. Caregivers with younger families of their own have a lot on their plates during the holidays. Over-the-top expectations and an “I want to do it all” attitude can bring on a lot of stress. Simplify routines and modify traditions to reduce stress by making a list of all of your chores and then eliminating those that aren’t truly necessary.
- 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, confusion or exhaustion, so consider designating a “quiet room” and schedule time for a nap, if necessary.
- Modify festivities to accommodate individual limitations. Figure out how to continue traditions but perhaps in slightly new ways that include your loved ones, but also take into account the limitations. Be conscious of potential difficulties with meals and other activities for someone with mental, physical or dietary limitations.
- Ask your loved one about their memories. Older people whose memory is impaired may have difficulty remembering recent events, but they are often able to share stories and observations from the past. Use picture albums, family videos and music to help stimulate memories and encourage seniors to share the holiday stories and experiences they remember.
- Create new memories. In addition to familiar traditions, consider adding something new to this year’s holiday celebration that will be easier for your loved one to participate in. Enjoy activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations, window-shopping at the mall or attending an event with familiar holiday music.
- Plan how to pass along holiday traditions. Use the time together for new ways of storytelling and recording family traditions. Step back from simply celebrating the holidays, and think of new ways to preserve the stories and memories that your parents hold dear. Talk about things you used to enjoy doing when you were a child.
- Find ways to celebrate long-distance holidays. COVID-19 or other circumstances may prevent you from being with your aging parents for the holidays. Hold a “virtual get-together” using Zoom, Skype, Facetime or other phone or computer apps.Give everyone a chance to talk or even sing together. You may need to have a tech-savvy person on-site in each location to help make and keep the connection.
- Acknowledge and plan for feelings of grief. Your parents might have new stories about long-time friends that have died. You may have feelings of sadness because they are aging and things are slowing down. If this is the first holiday after one of your parents or a spouse has died, grief will be very real for everyone. Get a sense of where everyone is emotionally, and what they fear, dread or look forward to about the holidays. Don’t expect immediate agreement about what should be done. Grieving is personal and takes different forms for everyone.
- Avoid embarrassing moments. Try to avoid making comments that could embarrass an older family member who may be experiencing short-term memory or other problems related to dementia. For example, if your elderly loved one forgets a recent conversation or event, don’t make it worse by saying, “Don’t you remember?” Just repeat what was said and go on.
- Monitor diet, medications and alcohol. Help seniors adhere to their regular schedule of eating and medications during the chaos of the holidays. Make sure there is something that a diabetic or someone with gluten intolerance can eat. Also, pay attention to their alcohol consumption during parties and family gatherings. Alcohol can illicit inappropriate behavior, affect balance and mobility, or interfere with medications.
A certified home health aide from Dakota Home Care can provide extra help with your loved one during the holidays. Give us a call at (877) 691-0015 for a free consultation on what we can do to help you simplify and bring more joy to the holidays for everyone in your family.