We’ve all been there. While our vision for the holiday season is one of intimate gatherings, delicious meals and bliss, the reality can be much the opposite. The volume of activities, shifting of schedules, decadent food and potential for conflict can put added strain on the entire family. Especially older adults.
If you’re an older adult, or if you care for someone who is, you can make the holidays more manageable by taking just a short amount of time to plan ahead. By considering some of the factors you can control this season, you can make the holidays safer, healthier and merrier.
Here are our tips for surviving – and savoring – the holiday season.
- Set realistic expectations.
Most people have a tendency to romanticize the holiday season. They yearn for the movie-scene, stress-free experiences where everyone is happy and healthy. Where everything is easy and there are no mishaps. But the reality is that, for most families, the holidays don’t go exactly as planned. They bring some stress. And they may even be a source of conflict. By expecting the unexpected during the holidays, you can be prepared for whatever they hold and eliminate the disappointment that can come with inflated expectations.
- Plan ahead for dietary needs.
The holidays are the time of extravagant menus. Decadent treats. And favorite traditional foods. But older adults may have dietary needs that prevent them from indulging. If you’re planning a holiday meal or event, be sure to ask your guests about special dietary needs in advance. If you’re the person with the special needs, consider bringing your own dish. Or modify elements of the meal you’re served.
- Be aware of safety risks in unfamiliar homes.
For older adults with disabilities or mobility challenges, an unfamiliar place can be loaded with hidden hazards. Be aware of things like throw rugs, door mats, barriers in doorways or hallways, and cords or loose items that may present a fall risk for older adults. Keep rooms and hallways illuminated. And if a holiday event is being hosted in the home of an older adult with any type of cognitive condition or memory loss, consider how moving furniture or changing the configuration of a room might effect their experience.
- Be prepared for quickly changing weather conditions.
December is a month that, in many parts of the country, can bring extreme fluctuations in temperature and weather. Layering can help ensure older adults are comfortable during the holidays. And appropriate outerwear – including hats, gloves and boots – can help protect them from the elements as they make their way to all of their holiday events and activities. If you live in colder climates, be sure you’re armed with shovels, salt and other supplies that will keep porches and walkways safe.
- Recognize the signs of seasonal depression.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 7 million adults over the age of 65 experience depression. Why? Because depression can be triggered by certain health conditions, and even medications. It can also become more likely when an older adult is adjusting to a significant change, such as a loss, illness or home relocation. The holiday season can intensify depression and its symptoms for older adults. If you or someone you love is experiencing deep feelings of sadness or anxiety, a change in eating or sleeping habits or loss of interest in daily activities and/or personal hygiene, see your doctor.
- Try to maintain a schedule and routine.
While it may not be possible to maintain every routine during the busy holiday season, keeping some structure can be invaluable for older adults. Predictability and consistency in schedule and routine can help improve quality of life. And studies have shown that routines can help reduce stress and anxiety; enhance feelings of safety, security and confidence; and aid in better sleep. While some routines can have some degree of flexibility, there is one that cannot – and that is the medication schedule. Be sure to keep it on track as holiday activities take hold. Consider calendar reminders, alerts or alarms to help ensure older adults continue prescribed dosage and schedule for important medications.
- Get adequate sleep.
Getting effective, restorative sleep can be a challenge for older adults. The aging process, chronic health conditions and certain medications can disrupt sleep. And contrary to popular belief, people don’t need less sleep as they age. Older adults require about the same amount of sleep as their 20-year-old counterparts. Sleep deprivation can effect mood, memory and cognition – among other things – in older adults. And it can have an impact on their ability to enjoy the holiday season. So don’t shortchange sleep in favor of more holiday activities. And be sure older adults get plenty of rest after traveling, when the body may need extra time to recover.
- Find ways to include everyone in activities.
It can be difficult – and even emotional – for older adults whose age or health prevent them from participating in activities or playing their traditional holiday roles. Think about new ways to get them involved. For example, break down meal-preparation tasks and assign appropriate roles to family members young and old. Plan games or activities that can be enjoyed by everyone. Tag-team on gift wrapping or shopping.
- Don’t do it all alone.
For many older adults, they no longer have the health status or stamina to manage the holiday activities they once could. If you’re an older adult, ask for help. If you care for an older adult, be sure to check in to identify needed help or support. And don’t forget that there are resources – like home care – that can help you manage all of the demands on the holiday season, and beyond.
- Enjoy your time together.
Regardless of how the meals, parties, gifts or activities of the holiday season play out, remember to enjoy the time spent with family and friends. Connecting and engaging with loved ones can be meaningful and fulfilling for older adults, contributing to overall happiness and well-being.
Happier Holidays from FirstLight.
If you need help tackling all of the things that come with the holiday season, FirstLight can help. Our non-medical home care services can provide support – whether it’s for a few days during the height of the holidays or on a regular basis throughout the New Year. Find a location near you today.