Tips for Caretakers and Loved Ones to Help Aging Adults Have a Happy New Year and Holiday Season

December 21, 2023

It can be challenging for caretakers and family members to keep older loved ones engaged throughout the holiday season. But with a few tips, you can find meaningful and accessible ways to celebrate this time of year with them.

For many, the holiday season is a time of joy, festivities, and excited anticipation for the year to come. However, this time of year isn’t always as enjoyable for senior adults. For the older members of our community, the holidays can be challenging to navigate, especially for those who also live with a disability. Although the potential for loneliness is much higher for older adults in general, the feeling may be exacerbated during occasions that are centered around spending time with family and loved ones.

It can be challenging to think of ways to keep older adults who live with limited mobility or need extra assistance to be safely engaged. But with a few tips, you can find meaningful ways to celebrate this time of year with them.

Here are ways that caretakers and loved ones can help lessen the feelings of isolation and loneliness for aging adults so they can enjoy a happy and fulfilling holiday season.

Listen Actively: During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, carve out dedicated time to talk with your aging loved one. Pick up the phone or set up a video call if distance keeps you apart. Make it a point to actively listen during your conversations, even if the dialogue isn’t always positive. An empathetic and open discussion can help validate and process feelings, lifting their spirits in the process. Let your older loved ones talk about what they are grieving as a way of reflecting and remembering. Try not to be dismissive of that. To help prompt conversations, you can engage in a life review process – an exercise used to help aging adults reflect on their life by finding meaning and uncovering memories.

Simplify Your Time Together: In many instances, the holidays are synonymous with big celebrations, meals, and gift exchanges. But these busy festivities can make some seniors feel overwhelmed and excluded, especially those with disabilities or limited mobility. To help older adults feel included, try celebrating with them on a smaller scale in a more intimate gathering in a quieter place. Share family stories, go through old photo albums, and celebrate their favorite holiday traditions. Even if your loved one is restricted in regard to physical activity, invite them into the spirit of the celebration. Be present for them, encourage them participate, and include them in whatever way they prefer.

Plan an Activity: Finding an activity to do with seniors that they will enjoy that also adequately accommodates their physical ability, medical requirements, and mental capacity can take some creativity, but it is well worth it. Here are some ideas:

  • Driving tour of lights: A driving tour of lights is a great way to get out and enjoy local decorations. Check local, community sites like NextDoor for maps of the best holiday lights near you and make it a complete evening by coupling the lights viewing with a thermos of hot chocolate and holiday music in the car. Holiday lights typically stay up through New Years, so this is a wonderful option through the end of December.
  • Watch a movie: If your loved one needs to stay closer to home, plan a movie night with them. Ask them if they have any favorite movies from their past or if they’d like to try something new. Bring them their favorite movie snack and enjoy a quiet and festive night in. If distance keeps you apart, you can watch the same movie in multiple locations and share reactions and memories in real time via a video call. Isn’t technology great?
  • Singing: Music and singing can bring joy, spark memories, and help to create new ones. Gather around a piano, ask someone to play guitar, turn on the radio, or just use whatever you have and enjoy an evening of singing festive songs. Virtual options can work just as well if needed.
  • Bring the celebration to them: If your loved one lives in senior living, bring the festivities to them. Contact a local school and invite their choir to visit the facility and sing for the residents. Ask if any of the students would like to make cards or crafts for residents to be distributed by staff.

Celebrating the holiday season with an aging loved one can require a bit of extra time and thought, but hopefully, these suggestions will help you and those you care about to create meaningful memories during the holidays and beyond.