The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but for some older adults, especially those living alone or in long-term care, holidays can be met with stress, confusion and feelings of sadness and loneliness, often intensified because holidays can be further reminders of the loss of loved ones, health and even independence. During this time of year, older adults can become isolated from their friends, family and community, leading to an increased risk of depression. There are several ways to make the holidays brighter and more tolerable, however.
One of the greatest gifts you can give an older adult is your time. Make it a point to talk with the older adults in your family, neighborhood and those living in long-term care. Listen to their stories, learn from them and try to put yourself in their shoes.
Include older relatives and friends in as much of your family’s holiday celebration as possible. This may include taking the holiday celebration to them. Remind older adults why and how they are important to you and your entire family.
Invite your elderly neighbor over for some of your holiday celebrations, especially if they would otherwise spend the holidays alone.
Holiday cards can mean a lot to older adults, and with loss, it is not uncommon for cards to diminish in number with every passing year. For some older adults, mail is the only communication they receive from friends and family. Make an effort to send a card with an upbeat greeting and update about your life and family. Cards filled with bad news, such as updates on those who died or fell ill, can be upsetting and stressful. If an older adult needs help reading or writing a card, take time to sit with them.
Help older adults decorate for the holidays. Offer to help them hang lights, carry boxes and prepare the house. If they are in an assisted living facility or nursing home, make the holidays brighter by bringing favorite or meaningful decorations. If the person uses a wheelchair, or is confined to a bed, place the decorations in places that will be most visible to accommodate their needs.
Encourage older adults to attend holiday celebrations and events. Social activities and events to look forward to can be meaningful and can contribute to feelings of belonging and well-being. If an older adult typically throws his or her own party, you can help plan and carry out the event if need be. You may decide to throw a holiday party in honor of a special loved one just to let them know how much they mean to you and others. This can be an uplifting celebration and help keep the older adult connected with their friends and community.
For more information on aging-related topics, contact the Logan County Cooperative Extension Service.
Source: Amy Hosier, UK Extension Specialist For Family Life Aging Care