The holidays are wonderful times to share joys of family life and friendships. But it can be a stressful time for seniors, especially those with special needs or those with health problems. What you consider fun (shopping, decorating, baking, holiday parties) can be stressful or depressing for seniors. Activities can seem confusing, testing their mental, physical and emotional capacity.
You can help older friends and family members enjoy the holiday season by following a few simple tips based on advice from specialists in senior medicine at the University of San Diego School of Medicine:
- Take a stroll down memory lane. Elders or those whose memories are impaired may find it difficult to remember recent events, but they are often able to share stories from the past. Gather your children and grandchildren near, and encourage them to listen from their elders how it was “in the day.” Use picture albums to help stimulate the memories.
- Plan ahead. Seniors who tire easily or are vulnerable to over-stimulation will do better when activities are limited to shorter periods of time. Noise and confusion from large family gatherings can be exhaustive and lead to irritability. Schedule time for naps or time in a quiet room where grandma or grandpa can take a break. Check on them frequently to be sure they are comfortable.
- Decorate thoughtfully. Rearranging furniture to accommodate holiday decorations in a home where an older person has memory impairment or behavioral problems can be a source of confusion and anxiety. This is especially important in homes where the elder could have difficulty with balance or walking.
- Reach out. Connecting with older persons during the holidays is especially important. Loneliness is a difficult emotion for anyone. It doesn’t take much time to delivery a poinsettia or deliver a small gift to an elderly family member or someone confined to a nursing home. Involve the youngsters!
- Let the sun shine. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression is an illness provoked by reduction of sun light during the short days of winter. Be sure the elder in your life spends a little time near a sunny window, and when the sun is hiding, involve them in fun activities to make the time past more quickly.
Don’t let family members with special needs get lost in the shuffle and chaos of family gatherings. Talk to the whole family, especially the younger ones, so everyone is aware of how they can help make the holiday season a loving one for the whole family, and especially for the elders.