It’s the time of year when social media, television, and movies create the illusion of ‘perfect holidays.’ However, for many older adults the most important aspect of holidays is spending time with family. Older parents may be overjoyed at being relieved of the holiday planning, or they may feel they no longer have an important role in the new traditions. Accommodating older family members with mobility or other health conditions can pose a new set of challenges.
Tips to help seniors and families enjoy the holiday
- Dietary needs change with age. Common dietary limitations are butter and oils, salt, and sugar. Some medications interact with popular holiday foods. Broccoli and spinach for example, are known to interact with Coumadin, a heart medication. The general advice is to keep the salt content limited in prepared foods, and avoid adding extra butter/shortening. People can always salt food to taste at the dinner table.
- The holiday season may be difficult for anyone who has lost a spouse, family or friends. Time does not always diminish the feeling of loss. Sometimes, the holiday season deepens the feeling of loss. Be open and be first to talk about the loss. Say something like, I know you may not want to talk about “family member,” but I want you to know that I love and miss them too. Ask if there is a specific memory they want to share. Ideas for acknowledging lost loved ones include lighting a candle in their memory, or baking their favorite dessert.
- Put older adults who love to cook in charge of a favorite recipe or more. Ask them to share their knowledge with someone from a younger generation.
- Pull out the family album. This may be a good time to ask older family members for the stories behind the pictures. Sharing can be especially meaningful if younger family members do not recognize everyone in the photographs. For older adults who are active online, the holiday season may provide a good time to upload family photos on a photo sharing website.
- Families with pets or children need to be careful seniors who are unsteady on their feet do not trip over pets or toys. Falls are the sixth leading cause of death for older adults.
- Depending on the health and stamina of the older family member, shopping and other chore related trips should be avoided.
- Connect younger and older family members with fun activities. Make cookies or hard candy, or play board or card games.
With a little bit of planning, you can make the most out of family time and relieve holiday stress.