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4 Ways to Combat Loneliness in Older Adults During the Holidays

By Elyse Notarianni

The holidays are some of the happiest times of the year, filled with friends, family and traditions that become some of your most crucial core memories. But for many older adults, it can also be one of the loneliest times of the year.

Since the pandemic started, seniors have been lonelier than ever. More than 40% of older adults 65 and older feel a lack of social support, which can be dangerous. Social isolation increases the risk of premature death, obesity, depression and cognitive decline.

During the holidays, those feelings can be heightened, especially for older adults who can’t keep up with the traditions they’ve celebrated their entire lives or are facing additional financial burdens.

Here are four ways to help keep this time of the year fun and festive for the older adults in your life and community.

Write cards

Many older adults don’t receive the same level of holiday cards they used to – if they receive any at all. Consider reaching out to local organizations that serve older adults to see if there’s a way for you to create and distribute holiday cards to spread some cheer.

Give gifts with meaning.

The holidays are the perfect time to walk down memory lane, and there’s no shame in being a little extra sentimental. Buy something that represents your favorite memory with your loved one, so they know that you’re thinking of them, not just ticking another gift off your list. Or better yet, give something that allows you to get to know them better. Gifts like prompted journals can allow them to share stories you may have never known otherwise.

Remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make an impact. This time of the year is about connection, not spending, and one of the best gifts you can give is your own time. Set aside an hour every week or so to sit down and interview your loved one about their life.

Spend quality time - their way

It’s great to spend time with older adults, but be careful of making decisions for them. While you may be the one to plan events, cook meals, do the driving or buy the decorations, it can make older adults feel like they have no control over how they want to celebrate the season.

Encourage them to engage in activities they love, but make sure to listen to what they have to say. They may not have the energy to shop the way they used to or the interest in activities they used to look forward to every year. That’s completely okay and understandable. It’s about making them feel loved, supported and included in whatever way feels best for them.

Be open and honest

Even though so many seniors feel lonely around this time of the year, it can be difficult for many adults to admit these feelings. In a time that is supposed to be so happy, many people feel ashamed that they aren’t in the same spirit, and it can make them feel even more isolated.

By sitting down to have an open and honest conversation about what the older adult in your life is really feeling in this moment – without judgment – you can give them the encouragement they need to understand that what they’re going through is normal and valid. There are so many ways to brighten up this season.


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