How to include loved ones in holiday festivities
The joy that accompanies the holidays can often feel absent from the halls of a residential care facility or in a widowed grandparent’s home.
Our aging loved ones can often feel more lonely or isolated as a result of changes in their senses, memory loss, illness or a loss of mobility.
Visiting around the holiday season is a guaranteed way to lift spirits and bring additional happiness in the lives of loved ones. It can also be stressful.
You might be wondering how to include an aging loved one with Alzheimer’s or your frail parent with mobility challenges in the festivities.
Creating positive experiences and memories are key and the more you know about the physical and mental condition of your aging loved one, the more comfortable you’ll likely feel. The more you can prepare friends, extended family and children, the better.
The majority of seasonal highlights are centered on visiting and enjoying company. Keep the following communication tips in mind when spending time with your aging loved ones.
- Always speak face to face, not from behind. Keep your hands away from your mouth.
- Get the person’s attention first by a gentle touch, wave, or calling their name.
- When speaking with a person in a wheelchair, bend down to their eye level before talking,
- Ask your loved one if they need assistance before doing something for them. Don’t be offended if they don’t take you up on your offer to help.
- Ask how you can help and listen for instructions.
- During conversation, minimize or eliminate background noise, such as radio, television, other people, etc.
- If it’s difficult for your loved one to communicate, use all modes of communication — writing, drawing, yes/no, eye contact, facial expressions, etc.
- If you are communicating with a loved one with cognitive impairment, keep your message simple and give only one message at a time.
- For those family members who feel uncertain or unsure about how to create enjoyable visits with loved ones, you may find the following tips helpful:
- Emphasize one-to-one or small group interaction.
- Provide a shared experience such as petting a dog, looking at photos, making a scrapbook, baking cookies, playing a game, putting on a puppet show with young children, enjoying music, going for a walk, telling stories about the past, bringing in your laptop and playing slideshows or watching home-made videos
- Recognize the frail elders’ limitations (if any). Short, frequent visits are often better than long, infrequent visits.
- Provide plenty of choice and allow your aging loved one to say when he or she prefers to visit or not visit.
- Remember the importance of the five senses, especially taste, touch and music. It can be wonderful for a frail elder and a child to share a homemade snack such as a smoothie, a hot chocolate or a cookie. A gentle hug, a handshake or an arm around the shoulder brings human touch to the surface. A singing voice or sharing a familiar song can also bring pleasant memories.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.