Tips for including elderly family members in holiday celebrations

By Halftone Pixel
December 23, 2011

For most of us, holidays go hand in hand with our families.

I don’t know about you, but my family includes a lot of different ages. We have half pints, tweens, teenagers, boomers, grandparents, and up until recently, great-grandparents!

Visiting elders and including them in holiday festivities is a guaranteed way to lift spirits and bring a good dose of happiness in the lives of loved ones.

However, during the normal course of aging, changes in senses, memory loss, illness or mobility can affect the degree to which an aging loved one can engage in holiday celebrations.

Below are some tips for including older adults in festive celebrations.

  1. Creating positive experiences and memories are what makes the holidays go round and the more you know about the physical and mental condition of your aging loved one, the more comfortable you’ll likely feel. And the more you can prepare friends, extended family and children, the better.
  2. Getting to and from the many concerts, parties and dinners can require transportation. I remember the first time I got to pick up and drop off my grandmother in my parent’s car.I was quite happy to do all the driving that year! The other lovely benefit (unbeknownst to most teenagers) is how such a simple intergenerational activity can be a golden opportunity for connecting, bonding and sharing.
  3. With many generations at hand, conversations may be dominated by the current trends, social networking and the latest technology. Be sensitive to the imbalance by encouraging younger generations to spend some time showing a grandparent how a “new” gadget works.In return, look for ways to engage older members of your family by bringing out old photograph albums from their generation. It gives an aging loved one an opportunity to talk about memorable events and locations captured in photographs that others have either forgotten or never knew about.
  4. 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.  If they do ask for help, ask how you can help and listen for instructions.
  5. If your aging loved one is experiencing memory or hearing loss, minimize or eliminate background noise, such as radio, television, to facilitate conversations. It’s also helpful to have someone sit beside them who is willing to repeat parts of the conversation or to respond to other needs. When speaking to an aging loved one in a chair or wheelchair, always bend down to their eye level before talking or pull up a chair.
  6. If you are visiting with a loved one in an assisted living complex or a residential car facility, short, more frequent visits are encouraged. Some ideas for visiting: provide a shared experience such as petting a dog, looking at photos, making a scrapbook, baking cookies, playing a game, enjoying music, going for a walk, telling stories about the past, bringing in your laptop and playing slideshows or watching home-made videos
  7. Lastly, 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.

Wishing you an abundance of joy and love during the holiday season and Happy New Year!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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