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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tips to Spend Holidays with Aging Relatives

The holiday season is a time of sharing.  Families come together and this time can be special.  But, including an aging relative who may be struggling with health and cognition issues, this can be a stressful time. These are some tips for spending time with aging relatives while keeping the holiday spirit special in your family:

  • Share memories

It is quite common for seniors to lose their short term memory, forgetting the events of the day or recent days.  This can be frustrating to family members.  However, long-term memories often remain sharp.  There are always stories to share.  While you may have heard some of those stories more than once, take the time to really listen and engage in them.  Bring young family members into the conversation to learn about what grandma or grandpa’s life was like when they were young, or how you behaved when you were a child. Allowing seniors to share their stories keeps them engaged and relevant in the family.

  • Create new memories

Is there an activity the aging relatives can share with younger family members?  My grandmother, mother and I took up truffle making for the holidays.  We spent every Christmas season splashing chocolate all over the kitchen, laughing and creating wonderful truffles to share with family and friends. During the year, we planned new flavors and laughed about our first attempts at candy making.  We made wonderful memories. Think about something that might interest both the senior and other family members.  Keep it simple, or be as creative as you want.  These are the memories that you will pass on.

  • Family gatherings

Additional people in the house for the holidays, or visiting an unfamiliar house can increase the risk of falls in seniors. Remember that as we age, our senses are not as sharp as they used to be. Vision may be impaired.  It is important that walkways be free of obstacles. Slippery rugs should be secured or removed.  Falls can be very serious in the elderly and many times can be avoided with proper care. Hearing is also beginning to go.  Try to seat the senior in a quieter spot in the room to lessen distracting noise.  Finally, it is important to allow seniors a time to rest away from the festivities to avoid being overwhelmed by all the activity.

  • Monitor medications, alcohol and food

Most seniors are taking some kind of prescription medications.  Often there are multiple prescriptions.  Many of these have unpleasant, or even dangerous side effects when mixed with alcohol.  Additionally, alcohol is often not tolerated in seniors as well as it may have been in younger years.  Be careful to offer tasty alternatives that will not cause unwanted side effects.  Foods can also interfere with certain medications.  Be aware of any recommendations of foods to avoid based on the medications an elderly family member may be taking.

  • Help seniors stay connected

Throughout the year, but especially during the holidays, loneliness hits seniors. They may not be getting out like they used to, and they are probably receiving less visitors than in the past.  Make efforts to keep them connected.  These days there are countless technology gadgets that can be used to communicate, as well as to share family photos and activities.  Many seniors are learning more computer skills, but even for those who are not computer savvy, there are some very simple devices that can be used to keep them connected to family and community.  Do some checking on line for holiday gift ideas for connecting with seniors.

  • Share the sunshine

Seasonal effective disorder (SAD) or winter depression is an illness exacerbated by reductions in sunlight during the short days of winter. It is important for people confined indoors, especially those at risk for winter depression, to make time for activities that will increase exposure to daylight.

Holidays can be a wonderful, albeit stressful time for all of us, but especially for seniors.  They have so much to offer our families, but sometimes we need to slow down and make some adjustments for them in order to make their experience (and ours) as positive as possible.  It is a time to be grateful for each person in our lives and to share with all ages, young and old.


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