The holidays are a wonderful time of year, filled with homecomings and fun surprises. It is also the time of year when depression, isolation and family conflicts increase. Celebrating the holidays with elderly loved ones brings its own challenges – hearing loss can exclude them from conversations, dietary restrictions can make dinner challenging, and “traditional” family arguments and stress can affect their health. If the seniors can’t make it to the family gathering, isolation can lead to depression and anger.
The question is: how does a family enjoy the holidays while addressing these challenges? Here are some suggestions that may help.
Place the elderly family member in the middle of the seating arrangement. It will be easier for them to be involved in conversations. Seat family members on either side who you know are patient and compassionate and will help them through the meal and the conversations taking place simultaneously.
Make sure foods are available to meet the particular needs of the senior. It is easy to buy gluten free, sugar free, and salt free foods. If s/he has diabetes, make sure that healthy snacks are available for them to enjoy. If the meal is going to be served later than their regular dinner time, have a small, full plate for them to eat at their regular time.
Some snacks that are good for diabetics, and other guests as well, include light popcorn, fresh blueberries, and cherry tomatoes.
Place a plate with these snacks in easy reach of the elderly guests. Coping with family conflict is not quite as easy. It’s important to help the senior enjoy a calm holiday gathering:
Ask family members (those not involved in age-old rivalries) to spend time with the senior.
If the senior likes to cook, set up a chair in the kitchen so they can enjoy the sounds and smells of Thanksgiving dinner cooking. Dismiss “trouble-makers” to other rooms.
Seat the senior and other family members in a living room or den and play nostalgic music.
If the family lives in another state and elderly family members are not able to travel, make calls to their community in advance to ensure they will not be alone. Councils on Aging, churches, county based elder services, schools, and other organizations will be able to help, or head you in the right direction.
If all else fails, line up family members to call the senior throughout the day. Many calls across a span of time will do much more to cheer up the senior than one long phone call with everyone on the line.
It can seem that the holidays are stressful by definition, but employing some of these strategies can help the senior members of the family to enjoy them much more.