Celebrating the holidays with your elderly can be a difficult time for people living in the sandwich generation. You want to make the holidays special for your growing family, but you don’t want to exclude your aging relatives. However, you’re wondering how to accommodate the current state of their health and care needs. Perhaps your parents have mobility issues, cognitive decline, or decreased energy, such that they can no longer enjoy a full day of festivities as they used to before. Perhaps they have part-time or full-time caregivers with them, or they’ve moved to an assisted-living residence. Or maybe you are the primary caregiver for one or both of your parents in your own home, and you are too burnt out to host the holidays.
Whatever the unique challenge that you have celebrating with your senior relatives or parents this year, there are ways to make it a lovely family moment for everyone. It just takes some patience, understanding, and full family support.
Aging at Ho-Ho-Home
Your beloved senior has chosen to age at home and may have a part-time, full-time, or even live-in caregiver. Traditions will have to change for the holidays to accommodate this new way of life.
Were holidays traditionally hosted at the senior’s home in years gone by? It might be time to make a change and have another family member host. One of the challenges with the elderly is that an all-day, boisterous family celebration can become too much for them. They can feel overwhelmed by the crowd and by the buzz of the activity around them. Adjusting expectations with family will ensure that everyone, including the senior, has a meaningful holiday even if it looks a bit different.
Taking their limitations into account, celebrating the holidays with your elderly can turn into a coffee and cake visit. Maybe the extended family doesn’t need to all be together for that one day, instead break it up into several short visits throughout the holiday week.
To avoid the senior from being overwhelmed by a crowd, it’s best to seat them somewhere comfortable in their space and out of the way of any ruckus. They’ll appreciate the one-on-one conversations as each person makes a point of chatting with the senior at some time throughout the event.
Scaling back and minimizing disruptions, instead of trying to hold on to something no longer feasible, can make any holiday joyful.
Holidays at the New Place
Celebrating a holiday can feel very strange if your senior has moved into a seniors residence such as an assisted-living residence or a care home. It is a new living environment and may not feel as festive. It’s time to find some new ways to celebrate with your senior.
You can still bring your older adult home for a family meal or celebration. Alternatively, you can choose to participate with your senior in the festivities being held at the senior’s residence that they now call home. Visit them on Christmas Day if you’re able, and bring some family members with you and the kids! Join them at the senior’s home for lunch. You may be able to book in advance a private dining room at the home so that you can have private family time together – bring the holiday treats and snacks and even some holiday decor for their room.
A third option is to make a date to take them somewhere special. Depending on their capabilities, take a drive to see the holiday lights display, attend a holiday concert, or go to a festive lunch or dinner.
Dementia as a Consideration
Sometimes there’s an added challenge of dementia thrown into the mix. When you have a relative with dementia, care and patience is very important. Consider how dementia affects your senior’s cognition and accept the new fact that holidays may not be what they once were. If agitation is caused by noise or changes in routine, it’s time to downsize your festivities if you want to include the senior. If the senior lives in a care home, a quieter get-together in his or her room may be easier. You can look over old photographs, listen to some music, have a chat over tea and treats, and maybe sing some Christmas carols – especially cute if there are little children involved.
Depending on the senior’s condition, celebrating the holidays with your elderly may be an outing and a change of scenery with you and the family. Different foods, activities, and getting some fresh air can really enhance the holidays for the senior. What the best choice is really does depend on the senior’s state of health – make sure to talk to your senior and her caregivers to see what is best.
Your Senior Lives With You
What if your senior lives with you in your own home? How can the holidays be fun for you while you’re caring full-time for your elder? It’s not easy. The holidays will feel like extra work, especially if you’re also caring for a growing family who are expecting Christmas magic.
This is something that siblings and other family members can help with. A family discussion will need to take place to adjust expectations, especially if you are hosting the holidays because everyone wants to connect with the senior as well.
You’ll want to have a safe and calm space for your senior, especially if the senior has dementia. In terms of decorations, it needs to be more subdued and toned down – avoid blinking lights. Play some favorite holiday tunes at a relaxing volume. If extended family members celebrating the holidays with you were the norm, it will be time to have a heart-to-heart and discuss paring down the gathering. Maybe stretch out the holidays and have other family members visit at different times during the week.
Try to plan the holiday gathering at the best time of day for the senior. If the senior is still relatively high-functioning, include them in your preparations where and if possible. Tasks such as sending Christmas cards, or making decorations are a great way to keep the senior focused, and make them feel involved.
For the caregiver, self-care will be really important during the holidays. Realistic expectations have to be set when it comes to your contribution to the holiday festivities. Don’t be scared to ask for help! Family members will need to help ease the load if the primary caregiver is overwhelmed. Friends and family can help with cleaning, shopping, or maintaining any tradition that the family wants to upkeep. Make time for yourself by asking family members to take over so that you can have time to enjoy yourself that involves no caregiving responsibilities.
However you are celebrating the holidays with your elderly, allow yourself to plan it in a way that doesn’t add negative stress to your life. We all just lived through 3 years of having altered holidays due to the pandemic; it’s time to take some joy and celebrate in whatever way works for you.