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

Caretaker and aging adult

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 ways to celebrate this time of year with them in ways that are COVID safe.

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 some parts of the population, specifically 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. And although the potential for loneliness is much higher for older adults, the feeling can be exacerbated during occasions that are centered around spending time with family and loved ones.

First and foremost, keep safety top of mind. Although we are learning how to safely be together during the pandemic, it is important that we remain aware of the risk that COVID-19 can pose to older people, especially with the rise of the Omicron variant.

When visiting with loved ones and aging adults, try to hold activities in well-ventilated areas or outdoors if the weather allows. Be sure to wear masks, practice social distancing in more crowded areas, sanitize communal areas, reschedule activities if you are feeling under the weather, and always operate within your loved one’s comfort level.

It can be challenging to think of ways to keep older adults who live with limited mobility or need extra assistance 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 happy and fulfilling holiday season and New Year.

Listen Actively: During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, carve out dedicated time to talk with your aging loved one -- by phone or video call if the COVID-19 risk seems too great. 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 and find meaning and uncover memories.

Simplify Your Time Together: In many instances, the holidays are synonymous with “big” – 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 -- again, gathering virtually if need be. Share family stories, go through old photo albums, and celebrate their favorite holiday traditions. Even if your loved one is restricted in physical activity, invite them into the spirit of the celebration. Be present for them, let them participate, and include them in whatever way they are capable.

Plan an Activity: Finding an activity to do with seniors that they will enjoy and also 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: If your loved one is able and it’s a COVID-safe alternative, a driving tour of lights is a great way to get out and enjoy local decorations. Check sites like NextDoor for maps of the best holiday lights and make it an evening 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 their favorite movie snack, and enjoy a quiet and festive night in. If need be, 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 and festive songs. Again, virtual options can work as well.

  • Bring the celebration to them: If your loved one lives in senior living, bring the festivities to them, ensuring you follow the facility’s COVID protocols. Contact a local school and invite their choir to visit the facility and sing for the residents -- perhaps on the front walkway of the facility so as to keep everyone safe. 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 extra time and effort, but hopefully, these suggestions will help you and those you care about to create meaningful memories during the holidays and beyond. About Us: As the Single Entry Point, Rocky Mountain Human Services provides long-term services and supports to Medicaid-eligible individuals in the Denver metro area and a one-stop opportunity for individuals to live independently in their homes or preferred community setting.

Click here to learn more about the Single Entry Point at Rocky Mountain Human Services.

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