Enjoying the Holidays with Aging Family Members
As we approach the holiday season, many of us will be engaged in family gatherings which will include several generations. This is a much anticipated season for aging family members. It gives them the opportunity for a change of pace, connecting with family and reminiscing about memories of past holidays. However, frailty and various forms of diminishing capacity can also bring about anxiety for seniors. Here are some helpful tips to make this time more enjoyable and safe.
1. Older family members usually need to be transported to and from family holiday gatherings. This is an opportunity for younger family members to connect with the older generation by providing the transportation. Make sure the driver practices safe driving and uses a clean and easily accessible vehicle. Remind the younger person to engage in conversation instead of playing loud music. Assist the senior with using the seat belt and make sure they are comfortable.
2. Include seniors in planning the festivity. Ask them to bring an old family recipe for a side dish; something easy to prepare and transport. Other ideas for tasks are flower arranging, table decorations, etc. Or, just let them rest if its too tiring for them to participate. Regardless, let the senior make the decision on how much they want to contribute.
Create a quiet area for resting. The hubbub of activity is tiring for anyone, let alone an older adult. Make sure to provide a comfortable resting area where older family members can get away from the crowd as needed. They tire more easily and a short nap can be very helpful and help guard against over exhaustion.
Assign a younger family member to be a buddy for an older family member. Help can be provided with activities such as getting in and out of chairs, getting food in a buffet, refilling drinks. Since their routine will be disrupted, make sure medication is taken in a timely manner. Watch alcohol consumption and interaction with certain medication. If the senior has any degree of hearing loss, the "buddy" can repeat parts of conversations as needed.
5. Home Safety – make sure walking areas are free of tripping hazards such as children's toys. Remove small throw rugs during the gathering. Have the "buddy" provide hand held assist and make sure children and pets are not underfoot. If needed, accompany an older family member to the bathroom. Remain close by in the event help is needed.
Common Courtesy – Most seniors have some degree of vision and/or hearing loss. Speak clearly and face to face trying NOT to scream.
Include seniors in conversations. Go through old photo albums with older family members. They love reminiscing. Be patient and allow them to tell stories from the past. If younger family members are talking about topics such as new technology, include the senior by showing them phone applications that may be of interest such as photos, weather reports, etc.
Maintain family traditions. This practice honors older family members.
About the Author
Terri Neill is a Principal and Director of Client Services for Senior Assist of the Peninsula, which is based in Burlingame. Terri's company provides in-home assistance for seniors from San Francisco to Palo Alto with caregivers who are company employees. She is also a volunteer member of the San Mateo County Fall Prevention Task Force.