Enjoying the Holiday Season
Throughout the holiday season, many Americans will be visiting their aging parents, often for the first time in many months. Families coping with aging relatives have unique challenges, and the holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances – presenting special demands, chaos and confusion with all the expectations, preparations and changes in routines. This can be very stressful for the elderly.
Read on for some simple examples on how to ensure that elderly family members enjoy the holiday season.
- Holidays provoke memories, which can be especially powerful in the later years of life. Picture albums, family videos and music can all help stimulate this sharing process. In addition to memories, older individuals need something to anticipate, so try adding something new to the holiday celebration.
- If an older family member tires easily or is vulnerable to over-stimulation, limit the activities or length of time he or she is included. Consider designating a "quiet room" where the older individual can take a break from the noise and budget in a naptime if necessary.
- If a holiday get-together is in the home of a person with memory impairment or behavioral problems, don’t rearrange the furniture, as this could be a source of confusion and anxiety. If the gathering is in a new place, remove slippery throw rugs and other items that could present barriers to an individual who has difficulty walking.
Holidays may be about celebration and good times, but they are also an opportunity for adult children to observe how their parents are functioning. Often the elderly are reluctant to talk about concerns with adult children, but it is extremely important to engage them in this conversation and to pay particular attention to the following areas of concern:
- Be sure to observe whether or not your loved ones are unstable on their feet. Unsteady seniors often restrict their movements or physical activities, making them even weaker and more prone to falling. Have a doctor monitor their physical abilities, install handles and bathroom grab bars and provide a cane or walker to keep them safe. Make sure the home environment is not going to further contribute to the risk of a fall.
- Has your relative noticeably lost or gained weight? Fluctuations in weight could be caused by any number of factors including symptoms of other serious medical or cognitive problems. Significant weight loss or gain also contributes to other serious chronic illnesses.
- Has there been a change in your relative’s hygiene and/or household management? Are clothes stained, is there unopened mail or any unpaid bills? This may be related to medical or cognitive problems, and it is important for your relative or friend to have a comprehensive medical and psychosocial evaluation. It may also be time to consider finding outside help. In-home caregivers can manage cleaning, meal preparation, bathing and grooming and an overall lightening of the burden of daily activities. Caregivers in the home can also remind seniors to take their medications to avoid unnecessary risks and potentially serious health problems.