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Help Your Loved Ones Make the Most of the Holiday Season

Nov 29, 2011

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, based on advice from specialists in senior medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine:

1. Stroll down memory lane.  Holidays provoke memories, which can be especially powerful in the later years of life. Older people 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 your parents were your age…’. Use picture albums, family videos or music to help stimulate memories and encourage older seniors to share their stories and experiences.

2. Plan ahead.  Limit the number of activities or their length of time they are included, and plan time for rest or quiet reflection. The noise and confusion of a large family gathering can lead to irritability or exhaustion.

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. Avoid embarrassing moments.  Try to avoid making comments that could inadvertently embarrass an older friend or family member who may be experiencing short-term memory problems. If an older person forgets a recent conversation, for example, don’t make it worse by saying, “Don’t you remember?”

5. In addition to memories.  Seniors need new things to anticipate. Add something new to the holiday celebration, Enjoy activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations, or window-shopping at the mall.

6. 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, peeling vegetables or folding napkins.

7. 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 should do.