Making the Holidays Special for our Elderly Family Members

Help your elderly loved ones enjoy the holidays by keeping them involved in celebrations without overwhelming them. Understand that their holiday experiences may be different than yours due to physical limitations, mental illness, or missing loved ones who have passed.

Recognizing what your elderly family member might be going through can help your family experience more enjoyment during this busy time of year. 

In this post, you’ll learn how to:

  • Make your loved one more comfortable during holiday events and activities
  • Reduce exposure to flu and respiratory illnesses
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of seasonal social isolation, depression, and stress
  • Identify tasks and chores to take over for your elders

Elderly Family and Holiday Activities

Talk with your elderly loved one about how they’d like to celebrate this holiday season. Explain that while they are more than welcome to participate in activities, you won’t expect them to attend all, even if they live with you. If they have been your family’s holiday host, discuss which family meals and traditions they’d like someone else to assume. 

Respect your loved one’s routine during the holidays. Elders with dementia or cognitive decline often experience sundowning, which is a period of increased agitation and confusion later in the day.

If the senior in your life expects to attend services or events at church, temple, synagogue, or mosque, planning can make the experience more enjoyable and safer. Get to religious services or school events early to ensure your loved one has a seat close to exits and the restroom. To reduce the risk of a fall or injury, wait until the crowd begins to thin before helping them navigate out of the building. 

Festive clothing can help seniors feel more included even when they can’t fully participate in holiday activities. Be sure clothes fit well, are comfortable, and are easy to put on and take off. Seniors are more sensitive to cold, so an extra layer of clothing can help ward off hypothermia. 

Elder Physical Health During the Holidays 

Your elderly family members may want hugs and kisses from family during the holidays. However, if you, your children, or other visitors have flu or cold symptoms, you should refrain from being around your elderly loved ones. 

Up to 85% of flu-related deaths occur in people 65 and older. Older people with chronic diseases are particularly susceptible. Getting a flu shot is a good way to prevent getting seasonal flu, and there is a higher-dose vaccine specifically created for the elderly. Additionally, a pneumonia vaccine may be a good idea, too.

Watch your elders for symptoms such as fever, headache, aches, cough, or sore throat, as well as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Flu symptoms that are bodies easily fight off when we’re younger and healthier can quickly turn into serious pneumonia and dehydration as well as worsening chronic conditions such as asthma or heart disease. 

Respiratory complications increase for the elderly during colder months when they spend more time indoors.  Consider purchasing air purifiers for their living and sleeping spaces. These portable air filtration systems also help allergy sufferers and people with pets and eliminate odors.  

Elder Mental Health During the Holidays

As much as we look forward to the holidays, this time can be a sad time for older people reflecting on the loss of loved ones or friends. Rather than feeling joy as the holidays approach, they dread cards and letters that may contain additional sad news of a friend or family member’s passing or serious illness.

Social isolation can be a particular issue during the holiday season. Older people and adults living with disabilities may feel more isolated. People living in colder climates are often trapped at home due to snow, ice, and low temperatures. Their older friends may not be able to visit for the same reasons. Snowbird friends may live many miles away during the winter.   

Be alert for signs of depression in the elderly. Rather than sadness, their symptoms may be fatigue, sleeping too much, irritability, increased or decreased appetite, and loss of interest in favorite activities. 

Additionally, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression sometimes referred to as the “winter blues,” affects millions of people who live in northern climates during winter months. The problem might be low Vitamin D levels because our bodies produce Vitamin D after exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D levels can improve with supplements, long walks outdoors, or bright light (lightbox) therapy. 

Stress may increase during the holidays as elderly family members struggle to keep up with family activities. They may feel obligated to host family dinners or parties but don’t have the energy or financial resources to continue to do so. 

Always talk to your elder’s primary care provider if you have concerns about their mental health. 

Holiday Tasks to do for Elderly

Holiday gift shopping, baking, and decorating can bring joy or stress to the holidays. As your loved ones age, they’ll need to step in and assist them – whether they admit it to you or not.

Seniors on fixed incomes may feel stressed by holiday shopping because they don’t have the budget to spend on gifts as they have in the past. Help them set a realistic budget. Assure them that their friends and family will be happy to receive a small gift or card with a letter or holiday photo. 

You may need to take on gift shopping for them. Ask them to create a gift shopping list to add to yours well in advance of holiday gift-giving events. Get suggestions from them about the type of wrapping paper or gift bags they’d like, then purchase those supplies. Make a date to wrap the gifts together. Arrange to mail long-distance gifts or arrange for them to be picked up and shipped.

Holiday cards are a long-held tradition for many older adults. If your loved one is unable to write legibly in cards, offer to address and sign cards for them. If they’d like to add a personal message, suggest drafting a letter that you can print and insert into cards. Purchase holiday stamps to help ease their budget worries.

If your loved one is expecting visitors and still lives in their own home, offer to tidy up and decorate for them. Think about safety first. Buy battery-operated candles. Make sure cords for decorations don’t create a tripping hazard. If their home is small or they are living in a nursing home, a small tree decorated with a few of their most treasured ornaments can brighten, but not crowd, space. Consider bringing photo albums out of storage to have handy for reminiscing with visitors.

Help During the Holidays 

The holidays are often the only time long-distance family can spend time with their older loved ones. If you are home for the holidays and notice that your older family member might require care, SmithLife Homecare is available 24/7. Call us today at 301-816-5020 to learn about the options we provide to support you in caring for your loved one.



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