The holidays are all about traditions and togetherness. Families who may not see each other often due to limited time or long distance make a special effort to celebrate with those they love during this festive season.
For older adults, especially those dealing with limited mobility or serious health issues, spending time with loved ones at the holidays is even more important. For seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, celebrating the season with their children and grandchildren is something they look forward to all year.
If you’re a caregiver for an elderly relative, you know they are already at increased risk for illness and injury during the colder months. But that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on the joy of the holidays.
Here are some steps you can take to make sure the whole family gets the most out this holiday season.
Decorate with care. Trees, garlands, candles and twinkling lights are pretty to look at, but they also add clutter and extra powers cords that can put your older loved ones at risk for burns or falls. Decorate with them in mind, making accommodations for walkers and wheelchairs when necessary.
Mind your menu. We all know that fattening, salty and sugary treats are part of traditional holiday fare. It’s perfectly OK to have a small portion of all your favorite foods. But be aware that an extra helping of gravy or a too-big slice of pie can aggravate health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Encourage your elderly relatives to practice moderation, and have some healthier options available like fresh fruits and veggies.
Understand their limits. Slowing down as you get older is normal. Seniors dealing with serious health challenges may not be able to celebrate the same way they used to, so plan accordingly. Four hours of family time might be too much for them, so make it one or two instead. Also, older adults often have more energy earlier in the day, so plan a holiday brunch/lunch, or attend a religious service in the morning rather than the evening.
Recognize the signs. Don’t let your older relative dismiss the symptoms of chronic illness like worsening pain, or new symptoms that could indicate the onset of the flu, like a sore throat or runny nose. Your loved one may try to “power through” so they don’t miss out on time with family, but ignoring them might result in at trip to the ER. Pay attention to signs of declining health so you can intervene early to get your loved one the additional care they need.
Ask for help. If you’re caring for an elderly relative, you likely don’t have much energy left over to entertain. If your loved one can’t get out, and you want to bring family to them, don’t go into it alone. Host a potluck and ask all your guests to bring a dish. Hire a cleaning service to get the house ready. Ask a friend or family member to help you with shopping.
Don’t let the limitations of age or illness sideline your holiday plans with older loved ones. With a few simple precautions, you can create more moments with those who mean most.