Making the Elderly feel At Home for the Holidays

Simple steps to help the seniors in your family experience more holiday cheer this season

By Dr. Marion

During the holidays, many families are full of excitement and expectations. But for some elderly family members, the holidays can be a time of sadness. Memories of loved ones no longer with us or past holidays when they were perhaps at a more enjoyable place in their lives can take the joy out of the season.

While younger people are busy running around getting gifts, making food, and putting up the decorations, the elders in your family may feel left out. Do all you can to make them feel like they are a vital part of the holidays. Meet their needs and the entire family will have a more enjoyable holiday.

How can you meet their needs? It is easy if you make a few special considerations. Don’t just plop them down in front of the television or at the dinner table. Involve them in as much of the preparation as possible. This can include wrapping presents, or helping to cook the family meal, by chopping nuts or beating eggs. Be sure you have the correct foods prepared if they have any specific dietary or medical needs.

You could also make your elder the guest of honor who lights the candles or recites a special prayer, if such traditions occur in your family. You can also break out the songbooks and have the elders join you in singing holiday songs. Whatever you plan, it has to be something that makes your elder feel present and in the middle of things in a genuine way.

Consider these additional ideas that should make your elders feel present in the excitement and love of the holidays:

  1. Make sure different family members are available to sit with your elders for one-on-one conversations and companionship.
  2. Create a comfortable environment for them to take a nap, if needed.
  3. Be ready to help them to the bathroom, if necessary. Take away the embarrassment. Make sure someone stays with them to help orient them to the various rooms of the home.
  4. Manage their clothing, too. Keep a sweater handy in case they get cold. If they have to wear a bib while eating, make sure it’s a stylish, functional one.
  5. Pull out old family photos that include good times when your elders were younger. It can be fun for them to remember a fishing trip, a birthday party, holidays past, or other family events. It reminds them that they have made a powerful contribution to the family. Give them time to tell any stories, even if you’ve heard them before.

Another important point to remember:  Being removed from their family could send your elders into a real funk. It is important that you call or visit them soon after the holidays to let them know you’re still thinking of them. Talk about the recent holiday and bring along any pictures that were taken. It helps them enjoy the event a second time.

If you are sending pictures, write the names, dates, occasion, and relationships on the back of the photos to help jog their memory and make it easier for them to show their friends.