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Making Holidays Easier for Older Adults

Many people look forward to holiday time as a time to celebrate religious and secular traditions and to connect with loved ones. However, for some older adults, holiday time can fill them with sadness or anxiety. Here are some reasons why that might occur and ways to address them:

Holidays can remind older adults of people they have lost. Holidays represent times of celebration and traditions. However, looking around a dinner table absent a spouse, child or a relative can be a painful reminder of loss.

What you can do: Acknowledge those who are missing. Talk with your older adult about them and about your happy memories of the missing loved ones, and allow your older adult to talk about them, too.

Holidays represent both tradition and change. Today’s family constellations are much more complex than previous generations’. Many times, divorced couples have to navigate complex schedules around holiday time, sometimes requiring that they visit with grandparents every other holiday. As well, many families increasingly use holiday time as a time to travel, sometimes upending cherished traditions. Older adults can feel saddened when they are unable to see their children and grandchildren, even though they understand the circumstances.

What you can do: When you and your family need to change holiday traditions, extra TLC can go a long way. Consider sending a special holiday “care package” filled with children’s artwork, photos of past happy events and personalized notes. The goal is to express to your older adult that even though you may not be together in person during the holiday, you are together in spirit.

Holidays can be challenging for people with dementia and their caregivers. Many older adults thrive on routine, which is especially true for people with dementia. A holiday celebration represents a major change in routine. The logistics of getting a person with dementia to a celebration can be wearing on the caregiver. Additionally, holiday celebrations, especially when children or large groups of people are involved, can be mentally exhausting for the person with dementia and for their caregiver.

What you can do: DON’T avoid including a person with dementia, but be sensitive to working with their caregiver to ensure that the celebration will not overwhelm the caregiver or the older adult with dementia. Be proactive about assisting the caregiver with travel and other logistical concerns (such as medication administration). If the older adult normally works with a home health aide, encourage the caregiver to bring them along to oversee the person with dementia. Also, consider setting up a quiet room for the person with dementia and have small groups (1 or two people at a time) visit with the older adult.

We at COHME wish everyone a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

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