Whether you’re decorating a Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, or giving to charity, the holiday season can be filled with mixed emotions. For elders, this is particularly true. While it seems that everyone else is rejoicing, many older people can feel isolated, sad, and lonely. Add in the stress of trying to find gifts within a limited budget and with limited mobility or energy and the challenges are plenty.
As a caretaker of an older person, you are in an optimum position to help. Sure, you are contending with your own stresses and challenges. Fortunately, the ways you can help your loved one are also apt to reduce your ever-growing to-do list. Here are four tips to help simplify the season and stave off the depression that can be common this time of year.
Know When to Stop
Be reasonable with your schedule. Everything doesn’t need to be done in one day. When you stretch special events out, not only do you reduce the amount of stress but you also provide something to look forward to. Activities that seem trivial to you can bring joy and serve as a helpful distraction for someone else.
If your senior is facing physical or mobility challenges that make it difficult to participate in traditional activities, include them in festivities in alternative ways. Suggest that they supervise the decorating of the tree by letting others know where they’d like certain ornaments. Wen wrapping presents, encourage the older person to choose the wrapping paper. Consider hiring a home health aide to escort your loved one to a family gathering or favorite event.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. Listen with an open ear, even if it means hearing about sad or angry emotions. Remember that this time of year is often one for reflection. Avoid suggesting that someone snap out of it or quit complaining as they discuss their worries. They can’t. Acknowledge memories with a project or gift to memorialize someone who has passed away. This can be done by creating a scrapbook of old photos or playing music that is mindful of that person. “Leading authorities have observed that memory and ‘life review’ are important parts of the aging process,” explains Barry Lebowitz, Ph.D., deputy director of UCSD’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
Staying socially connected to others is especially important at Christmas time. Loneliness is a major cause of depression and it is particularly common around holidays. Reach out to your loved one. Often, the only holiday cards that older people receive carry notes of recent deaths and tragedies. Send a card with positive messages. Call periodically or stop by for a visit, if possible.
Caring for an older person is difficult no matter what time of year. Combined with the stress of the holidays, it can be especially crucial to find ways to not only ease tension for the senior in your life but for yourself as well. With all the hustle and bustle of the season, keep in mind the importance of staying sensitive and loving.