Celebrating the holidays with older family members

The holidays can be an excellent time to join with family and celebrate. We often see loved ones we haven’t seen in several months. These are often times for happy memories and family traditions. It’s also a good time to consider how the holidays affect older family members. The holidays can also be a time for mixed emotions. It is a good idea to be aware of some tips and ideas that can make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.

First, consider the physical abilities and needs of older family members. They may only be able to join in some of your scheduled activities. Try to include them whenever possible and arrange transportation if needed. Holiday activities they could participate in consist of: meal preparation, decorating, holiday shopping, sharing homemade treats or viewing outdoor light displays. Plan or make a new tradition involving all family members. For family members unable to join in activities, keep communication open; you can also use technology such as FaceTime or Zoom.

With the busyness and frequent coming and goings, consider having a quiet room where others can relax or get away from the activities. 

This time of year can also be stressful. As we get older, we often experience loss and grief and miss those people who have gone before us. It is important to remember those who are no longer with us and the memories they have left behind. Family members may want to share stories about past holiday memories with the younger generation. Consider getting out the old photo albums or home movies. Be open and supportive to those expressing feelings of sadness and loss.

Be aware that depression, however, is not a normal part of aging. The blues are temporary, but clinical depression can continue after the holidays. It is best to contact a healthcare provider if you suspect a loved one is suffering from depression.

It is also important to prepare your home to prevent hazards for seniors. One of the most significant risks is falling. Older adults are more likely to suffer serious injuries. As we age, we may experience gait instability or arthritis pain, decreasing our mobility. Many older adults take medications that can impact stability. Vision is not as good as it was, making it harder to see obstacles, and reduced reaction times make older adults more likely to take a fall. There are steps you can take to make your home more hospitable and safer for older adults during the holidays.

On the outside of your home:

• Make sure sidewalks and driveways are clear of ice and snow.

• Put down salt or ice melt.

• Make sure steps and walkways are well-lit, and handrails are tight.

• Beware of cracks or uneven surfaces that could be a tripping hazard.

Inside your home:

• Pick up any clutter and any loose items on the floor or stairways.

• Pick up any rugs or electric cords that could cause a tripping hazard. Make sure pathways between rooms are clear, and move furniture obstructing the path.

• Tighten handrails on staircases.

• Make sure stairways are well-lit.

• Pets can also be a tripping hazard; make sure they are under control and mind their manners.

• Pick up any children’s or pet’s toys from the floor.

• If an older adult is spending the night, make sure there is a lamp near the bed, so they can turn it on before getting out of bed, and consider putting night-lights in the hallways.

• Make sure there is a clear pathway to the bathroom.

These tips will help to make a safe and happy holiday season. I hope that everyone enjoys the season.

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