By Toni Lynn Davis MHA, CNHA, FACHCA
The winter holidays are designed for children and the child inside each of us. Our cities, streets and homes are festooned with bright lights and shiny objects. Holiday music is played in stores, on elevators, on public transportation. People bustle about shopping for presents, cooking, baking and preparing. During all of this celebration our senior citizens can get overwhelmed, over stimulated, and even overlooked.
Seniors may find themselves home alone on the holidays. They may not be able to participate in gatherings or gift giving due to mobility issues, or economic limitations. Elders have an increased risk of holiday blues, remembering days long gone, and times when they were surrounded by friends and loved ones no longer with them. Elders are easily forgotten on ones gift list.
When hosting or visiting seniors for the holidays keep in mind their age related needs. If possible offer transportation for them to eliminate nighttime driving and travel. Consider the dietary needs of your guests when preparing your holiday meal. There is always extra food after a holiday meal, it is not in the nature of many seniors to “ask” for anything, offering leftovers to send home with them to freeze, or refrigerate would be a thoughtful way to ensure they have healthy meals for the coming week.
It’s important that seniors stay hydrated. Try to provide plenty of water and fluids. Offering a reminder that alcohol consumption may have adverse side effects with many medications taken by your guests is a caring gesture. Walking is a great way to bond and it offers much needed exercise after a big meal. A walk together around the neighborhood may help reduce stress and offers a great way to create conversation. If the weather requires it, take an indoor walk around the mall. It’s also important to create opportunities for your senior guest to get rest if needed. Let them know you have a place available for them to freshen up or take a break.
Pay attention to your senior guests and take the time to engage in conversation. We all need someone to talk to. Holiday blues cross the age spectrum and seniors can be especially vulnerable. According to Mental Health America, approximately two million seniors suffer from some form of depression that can be exacerbated by the holidays. Encouragement to get involved with the holiday preparations in the kitchen as well as helping with wrapping presents is a great way to help your guests feel that they are doing their part to contribute.
The holidays are often the time families notice how their senior loved ones are doing. The time that you spend together is often longer than during regular days, and there is an opportunity to engage with them in a variety of activities. Watch them while interacting with others and watch how they are getting around. If picking them up from their home go inside and use the bathroom to see how they are handling their household responsibilities. Take the time to engage them in conversation. Ask how they are doing physically and how they are feeling. Listen to their responses. Avoid any serious conversation during the holidays and save your comments or suggestions until after the holidays are done.
The holidays are a great time to give of ourselves and do what we can to provide an enjoyable season for all. It is a perfect time to take stock of what the elders in your family may need today and what may be needed in the coming New Year.