Supporting the Elderly Through the Holidays

The holidays can be a lonely and difficult time for seniors. Instead of merriment and joy, many seniors experience loneliness and sadness during the holiday season. A time of year dedicated to family and traditions can be a reminder of the loss that many of us have experienced: loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of contact with friends, and loss of tradition. And these challenges have all been magnified by the global pandemic.

Across the globe, the elderly are facing isolation and loneliness unlike ever before. Many seniors have gone months without hugging loved ones, seeing family, or enjoying social interaction. Many have lost friends and love ones this year and moving into a “happy” holiday season is an impossible and overwhelming task.

If you know this holiday season will be particularly difficult for your elderly loved one, take some extra steps to show your love and support this holiday season:

1. Take time to listen. Perhaps, the most important thing you can do is to listen to your elderly loved one. Encourage them to talk about their holiday experience, share memories of the past, and grieve their present loss. Linger over a prolonged phone call, better yet, set up Facetime or Zoom to talk face-to-face. Ask a lot of questions and set unrushed time to spend with your loved one virtually.

2. Don’t Force Holiday Cheer. For those who are struggling with a recent loss, don’t force them to participate in every holiday activity. Beware of social isolation, but participating in holiday activities can be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. Instead, find out what activities they want to attend and honor their requests. As the pandemic continues to rage, look up virtual activities that they can participate in from home. Many local and national theaters have broadcasted performances such as The Nutcracker and Handel’s Messiah that can be enjoyed from the comfort of home.

3. Remember Traditions. Take time to incorporate the important family traditions that were passed down through generations.  Look for ways to adjust traditions to make them accessible to family virtually. It can also be a sweet time to include more families spread out across the country or even start a new tradition, such as virtual Hot Cocoa Night.

4. Help Decorate. If your elderly loved one wants to have their home decorated for the holiday season, help them decorate. This can be challenging in our current climate, but delivering a small tree or wreath to a door can help those who are unable to leave the house.

5. Share Memories. Don’t be afraid to talk about past memories and to share stories. Talk about the loved one who has passed away. Sometimes talking about the past is avoided because we don’t want our loved ones to feel sadness. But, sharing your own thoughts and experiences can remind your senior loved ones that they are not alone in their sadness or grief.

Ultimately, every person will need to get through the holiday season in his or her own way.  Ask your elderly loved one what they need to celebrate the holiday or just to get through the holiday. Some people may want to remember all the Christmas traditions while others will want to start new traditions. Don’t assume you know what is best.

If you are concerned about the mental and emotional health of your elderly loved one, talk to his or her primary care physician about the signs of depression. Seeing a mental health counselor can help seniors process the loss they are experiencing.

If you need help getting through the holiday season, contact a Preferred Care at Home location to learn more about our care options.

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