The holidays are a time of year when we strive to create happy memories. We take joy in organizing events for family and friends, socializing, exchanging gifts, and enjoying the company of those we love. Yet as our relatives age we may need to adjust our plans and expectations by taking into consideration the changes that come with aging.
Changes related to aging may affect one’s ability – or willingness – to participate fully in past traditions. Changes in eyesight and hearing, mobility, and memory loss are just a few conditions that might influence a senior’s ability or desire to participate fully in all family events.
Large group gatherings may be too stimulating, particularly for a relative with dementia. Many older folks find loud and crowded events overwhelming and stressful. Perhaps they can’t physically navigate well through crowded rooms, or they may be uncomfortable struggling to recall a relative’s name. These gatherings can put a great deal of unintended pressure on your senior.
It may be necessary to arrange a few smaller and more intimate celebrations as alternatives to large gatherings. This is especially effective for elders who are experiencing memory loss or anxiety. Many seniors appreciate separate visits, shorter in duration, from family and friends throughout the holiday season. Or, propose briefer outings as alternatives, such as a holiday lunch or ride to see Christmas lights.
Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for seniors to be apprehensive of traveling near or far. They may decline your invitations because they fear driving themselves and do not want to be a burden to others. Some will not want to disappoint you but are truly afraid of the traffic and weather. Pay attention to what they say and how they say it for clues as to their true feelings.
Ask your older relative if they would like to be included in shopping, baking, church outings or larger gatherings and plan these events around their usual routine. Be cognizant of the amount of time you ask of them and keep it simple. We tire more easily as we age, and rest becomes important for maintaining mental and physical abilities.
Above all, communicate with your senior prior to making plans. Ask how they would like to spend the holidays, and offer suggestions and options. Understand that sometimes we force our older relatives into parties and events because we want them to be there. It is important to consider what is best for them, especially for individuals with dementia. They may be more likely to enjoy a quiet visit, holiday music and a favorite desert versus a large gathering.
Let us also not forget those older adults who are alone without family or friends for whatever reason, and take some time to reach out to them. Everyone enjoys a visit, a short conversation and a cookie or two.
Embrace the true meaning of this time of year by taking the time to reflect on your blessings and share the holiday spirit with people you know, and those you don’t.