For most of us, the holidays are a wonderful time to share the joys of family life and friendship. But for many older adults the holidays can be highly stressful, confusing, or even depressing if their mental, physical and emotional needs are not taken into account.
If you, or a senior member of your family have any physical, emotional, or mental challenges, here are some simple tips that can help you (and them) enjoy the holiday season:
Stroll down memory lane. Holidays provoke memories, which can be especially powerful in the later years of life. 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 important for the young as well—children enjoy hearing about how it was “when your parents were your age.” Using picture albums, family videos and music, even theme songs from old radio or TV programs, can help to stimulate memories and encourage older seniors to share their stories and experiences.
Plan ahead. If older family members tire easily or are vulnerable to over-stimulation, limit the number of activities they are involved in or the length of time they are included. The noise and confusion of a large family gathering can lead to irritability or exhaustion, so schedule time for a nap, if necessary, and consider designating a “quiet room” where an older person can take a break.
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?”
Create new memories. In addition to memories, seniors need new things to anticipate. Add something new to the holiday celebration, or volunteer for your family to help others. 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.
Beat the blues. “Holiday blues” are feelings of profound sadness that can be provoked by all the activities of the holiday season. Seasonal blues can have a particular impact in the lives of older people. Depression is a dangerous and life-threatening illness in older people. Tragically, suicide rates increase with age, specifically for older men. Depression is not a normal part of aging and should never be ignored or written off.
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 provoke inappropriate behavior or interfere with medications.
Remember … older family members with special needs can get lost in the shuffle and chaos of happy family gatherings. So, with all the hustle and bustle of the season, just remember to be sensitive and loving. And plan ahead.
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