Minimizing Holiday Stress for Your Elderly Relatives

The holidays conjure up images of delicious meals, festive lights, and classic movies. However, the holiday festivities also come with their share of stress; and that’s more true than ever now during COVID-19.

For seniors, the holidays can feel especially nostalgic, bringing to mind memories of happier, younger times. This also comes with a sense of loss: of youth, of friends, and of loved ones. And in a season when many seniors have been more isolated than normal because of the pandemic, your elderly loved ones may feel like they’re missing out or don’t have much to celebrate.

If you’re looking for ways to reduce stress and bring some extra joy to your loved ones this holiday season, these tips can help.

Be realistic. Know your senior’s limitations, as well as your own. Try to set reasonable expectations before going on an outing, and don’t forget that your loved one might need to be especially cautious about exposure to COVID-19.

Watch your body language. So often, our elderly relatives feel like they’re a burden. You may be exhausted and impatient, but be careful not to show it. Take deep breaths, relax your shoulders, uncross your arms, smile often, and give little hugs. Let your loved ones feel like you have all the time in the world.

Think outside the box. So your mother wants to Christmas shop, but she’s immunocompromised and shouldn’t be out in the crowds? Bring a laptop, snuggle up next to her on the sofa with a steaming cup of hot tea, and do some online shopping.

Be a good listener. Let’s face it: often the elderly have a lot to be sad about. Instead of reprimanding them for whining, or telling them to cheer up, invite your family member to talk about their feelings. Try saying things like, “I bet you’re missing your husband this year, aren’t you? How do you feel?” Listening validates their feelings.

Recall happy memories. After you’ve let your mother vent, transition her into a more positive conversation. Or redirect your father’s attention by asking him to recall funny anecdotes. If you have children or teens, urge them to ask their grandparents leading questions like, “Tell me about your first Christmas with Grandma.”

Let your elderly relative help. Everyone likes to feel useful, and that’s especially true of seniors. Make a mental list of everything that has to be done: applying bows to gifts, setting out placecards, peeling vegetables, hanging ornaments, setting tables. Then ask your loved one for help with one of these tasks.

Prevent over-stimulation and isolation. As odd as it sounds, a large family dining table can be a lonely place for an elderly person who cannot hear well. This is especially true if he has been living in a quiet environment, like an assisted living or nursing home. Seat your senior at the dining table at a position where they can hear well. Often the middle of the table is the most comforting spot. Sitting at the end of a table can cause noise distortion and the perception that everyone is talking at once.

Take turns being the “temporary caregiver” at family gatherings. It’s easy to get caught up in the laughter and conversation and busyness of a family event and leave the senior out. By assigning different relatives to take turns being the companion at these events, it ensures that your elderly relatives feel like they’re part of the festivities.

Maintain routines. If your mother or father is accustomed to an afternoon nap, make sure you budget time for it. Routines extend to meal times and portion sizes, as well. Too much on the plate can be overwhelming and lead to the senior just pushing the food around.

Get creative with your gifts. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to purchase for your elderly relatives, especially when they’ve downsized. Look for gifts that will make their space more cozy or help them connect with their loved ones. Maybe your mother needs a warm, fuzzy throw for her bedroom. Add a few movies that the two of you can watch together, and you’ll have the perfect Christmas gift. Or maybe your father would love an easy-to-use mobile phone or tablet that he can use to FaceTime his grandkids. A great gift doesn’t need to be complicated, just make it heartfelt.

Above all, you can control the holiday chaos by budgeting time to enjoy special music together, snuggle by a fire, and just be together. That companionship is undoubtedly the greatest gift your special senior can receive this year.