Tips to help Seniors enjoy the Holiday

by MichelleR on December 21, 2012

For most of us, the holidays are filled with the joy of family time and visiting friends. But for many older adults the holidays can trigger stress, confusion, or even depression if their mental, physical and emotional needs are not taken into consideration.
If your elderly loved ones and friends have health issues, you can help them be as comfortable and relaxed as possible so they are able to enjoy the holiday season 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. The Holiday season is one that tantalizes the senses, and stirs up old memories, which can be especially powerful in the later years of life. Barry Lebowitz, Ph.D., deputy director of UCSD’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging says, “Older people whose memories are impaired may have difficulty remembering recent events, but they are often able to share stories and observations from the past.” These shared memories are a great way for the younger generations to learn about family traditions and bond with the older generation—children enjoy hearing about how it was ‘when your parents were your age…’.” He suggests using picture albums, family videos and music, even theme songs from old radio or TV programs, to help stimulate memories and encourage older seniors to share their stories and experiences. Don’t forget about the sense of smell! It is the most direct path to the brain.

2. Plan ahead. Older family members tend to tire easily and can be vulnerable to over-stimulation, so try to limit the number of activities they are involved in or the length of time they are included. If you plan visits or pick-up times around their schedule (after a nap, or when they tend to be at their best), the noise and chaos of a large family gathering might minimize irritability or exhaustion. If it is not convenient to be going back and forth, dropping off and picking up elderly family members, you may want to consider designating a “quiet room” where an older person can take a break. Give family members a friendly reminder to pay extra attention to make sure your loved one is comfortable, says Daniel Sewell, M.D., director of the Senior Behavior Health Unit at the UCSD Medical Center, who adds that these guidelines work well for young children as well as adults with mental, emotional and physical health issues.

3. Eliminate obstacles. If a holiday get-together is held in the home of an older person with memory impairment or behavioral problems, be respectful of their space- it is where they feel the safest, so keep everything as is- i.e, don’t move furniture around and put everything back exactly where you got it from. Ignoring this tip could potentially cause confusion and anxiety and that won’t be fun for anyone. 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?” If your loved one has incontinence issues, make sure they are freshened up before leaving the house and don’t forget to bring an extra set of clothes and under-briefs- just in case!

5. Create new memories.
Seniors need new things to anticipate. Having something to look forward to makes them feel good 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 or along a festive downtown street, or maybe there is a program to volunteer for.

6. Be inclusive. Involve everyone in holiday meal preparation. Assign ability appropriate tasks that include everyone from the youngest to the oldest family members. There are many details that go into preparing a meal; it’s not just about cooking the meal. Adults and children with physical limitations can still be included by asking them to do simple, helpful tasks. For example, greasing cooking pans, peeling vegetables, setting out all ingredients needed, setting the table, arranging flowers, and don’t forget putting together a grocery list! Be creative!

7. Reach out. Feeling a sense of belonging is especially important during the holiday season. We get so caught up in our day to day routine, it is easy to lose touch with even our closest relatives and friends. We should make it a special point to reach out to those that we have not had time to visit or chat with throughout the year. Lebowitz says. “Loneliness is a difficult emotion for anyone. Recent research with older people has documented that loneliness is associated with major depression and with suicidal thoughts and impulses.”

8. Sunny side up. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression is an illness that can be provoked by reductions in sunlight during the short days of winter. It is important for people confined indoors, especially those at risk for winter depression, to make time for activities that will increase exposure to daylight, according to Lebowitz.

9. Monitor medications and alcohol. If you have senior family members, be sure to help them adhere to their regular schedule of medications during the frenzy of the holidays. Also, pay attention to their alcohol consumption during holiday parties and family gatherings. Alcohol can interfere with medications.


In summary, with all the hustle and bustle of the season, just remember to be sensitive, loving, patient, and plan ahead to reduce stress!

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