The true test of the holiday season is whether you manage to free yourself of the hustle and bustle. If you are caring for an elder, the definitive failure is to allow your loved one to fall victim to that madness. One of the few clear benefits of aging is to finally be free of the rat race. Why pull someone back in? If you’re prone to getting lost in the shuffle, you are most likely to deny your family of what they really want for Christmas: you.
Be there for your elder family members this holiday season. The rest will take care of itself. If the experience of elder caregiving is still new to you or if you simply could use some advice, here are some pointers to get you to the New Year:
- Listen. Elders require empathy more than anything. Every day feels like uncharted waters. They need to share their experience like anyone else. Depending on their awareness of the season, feelings of loss and loneliness may be amplified. Just listen.
- Include. There is probably plenty that the elderly are happy to be excluded from but their families are not on that list. If it is time for family celebration and togetherness, they will want to feel like they are still included. They certainly do not want to feel like a stop on the itinerary.
- Connect. Just because someone does not get around as much doesn’t mean they should feel less connected to family and friends. To anyone with a Smartphone, this is obvious. An elder may or may not use the telephone to stay in touch with others throughout the year. Still, when the holidays arrive, so do cards. Believe it or not, this may still be a vital source of family correspondence and connectivity for your loved one. Help with this process however you can.
- Rejuvenate. One of the greatest gifts you can give the elderly is a jolt of youthfulness. If they are in a facility, find out if local kindergartens or day care centers can bring children to visit. If your elders are able, bring them to the schools or centers, especially if the program features their grandchildren.
- Pray. You can join in if you want but your parents may wish to carry on spiritual practices regardless of whether you do or not. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Reach out to a local church, synagogue, temple or other spiritual center. Ask if someone can visit your elders at home or at the facility. Prayer may be the cure for the holiday blues.
- Decorate. You’ve probably already bedazzled the inside and outside of your house with lights, snowmen, menorahs, dreidels, or Santa Claus. What’s one more room? Besides, decorating the house may feel like an obligation. On the other hand, familiar decoration could very well be the nonverbal cues that will deliver the message of holiday cheer to your loved one.
- Eat. Plenty has been said about reaching others through their stomach. Your elders are no different. Certain baked goods or treats spell tradition.
- Party. Nursing homes have dining or conference rooms that can be reserved for small gatherings. Call in reinforcements. The scope of the festivities should really depend on your loved one’s social capacity. If he or she is easily overwhelmed by too much activity, you may want to keep it low-key. If your elder is still a social butterfly, don’t worry so much. Just the right amount of socialization could be just what the doctor ordered.
The holidays can also open the door for family members to observe the health and well being of their aging loved ones. Some tips for this holiday season can be found in the post Keeping a Family Together Beyond the Holidays. Observing loved ones now can help make a difference for when we care for them in the future.
An elder’s ability to get around should have no bearing on their ability to walk down memory lane. Even memory impairment should not stop you from taking that stroll with your loved one. No one really knows precisely how cognition and memory function with dementia patients, anyhow. So, by all means, pull out the holiday photos and videos. Play their favorite music. Allow them to reminisce in whatever fashion they see fit.