Tips to help the elderly enjoy Christmas

By  Lisa Petsche
  • December 14, 2007

{mosimage}Many people are filled with joyful anticipation and festive good cheer right now. But some are apprehensive and may also experience heightened feelings of loneliness as Christmas approaches. Or perhaps they feel empty inside.

This type of reaction is commonly referred to as the holiday blues.

Seniors are particularly susceptible because they’re more likely to experience losses, such as a spouse or other companion, a long-time home, financial security, health and physical functioning and the independence associated with it (for example, driving and preparing meals). As a result, they’re not able to celebrate Christmas the way they always have.

Feelings of grief may include sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety and guilt — emotions that sap energy and create stress.

Fortunately, there are many things that relatives, especially younger generations, can do to help seniors in this situation experience enjoyment during the Christmas season. It’s particularly important to reach out to those who live alone.

If you have an older family member who is widowed or living with illness or disability, read on for some ways to lift their spirits and lighten their load.

Addressing stress

  • Bake extra holiday treats to share with him or her (the latter will be used from here on).
  • Offer to help decorate, wrap gifts, address Christmas cards and take them to the post office or perform other holiday-related tasks.
  • Take your relative out to the mall for gift shopping and lunch. Arrange accessible transportation if necessary.
  • Let her know when you’re heading out to the grocery store or on other errands, and ask what you can drop off or pick up to make things easier.
  • If she doesn’t drive, offer transportation so she can get her hair done, do banking or attend a holiday event.

Giving gifts

  • Resist the urge to go overboard with gift giving, so your relative doesn’t feel the need to reciprocate. If you’re part of a large extended family, suggest a new tradition of drawing names, giving family presents instead of individual gifts or buying only for the children.
  • Ask, rather than guess, what kind of gifts your relative would prefer. Practical presents, such as grocery store or pharmacy gift cards, toiletries, clothing, home safety equipment and adaptive aids, may be most appreciated. Consider, too, gifts of time and talent. Create a book of IOUs for one or more of the following: home-cooked meals, baked goods, household chores or repairs, yard work, chauffeuring, running errands or teaching a skill such as computers.
  • If she doesn’t need or want anything, give a charitable gift in your relative’s name from the Christian Child Care International ( Knowing a needy person is being helped may give her some satisfaction.

Planning ahead

  • Be prepared to modify or forego traditions that aren’t practical for your relative, such as a post-midnight Mass gathering or an event at her home. It may be time to start a new ritual; brainstorm ideas with other family members.
  • Be sensitive to your relative’s health care needs in terms of rest, nutrition and medication schedules, when considering the time period for a family event. Before deciding on a venue, determine her environmental needs, addressing accessibility and safety issues.
  • When you extend an invitation, do so with the understanding that she may change her mind if she doesn’t feel up to the occasion. Since it may be difficult to predict how much energy she will have, give your relative an out. Encourage her to take things one day and one event at a time and to ensure plenty of time for self-care.

Staying connected

  • It’s more important than ever that your relative stay connected to people who care. The following are some ideas for spending quality time together and creating lasting memories this Christmas season.
  • Invite her over for a baking or tree decorating party or to watch a favourite holiday movie.
  • Invite her to one of your children’s (or grandchildren’s) school Christmas pageants or holiday recitals. If she doesn’t drive, or if she does but the event takes place after dark, provide transportation or pay for the cost of a taxi.
  • Take her out to a concert or theatre production. Or go on a holiday light tour, followed by dessert at a café.
  • Invite her to share recipes for special dishes or sweets. Offer to co-ordinate a cooking or baking demonstration. Even if she’s physically unable to participate (due to tremors or poor vision, for example), she can still provide instruction and supervision.
  • Ask her to join your family for Christmas Mass. Invite her to sleep over so she can be part of the Christmas morning excitement in your household.
  • Encourage her to reminisce about Christmases from her youth, including family customs, special people and places, memorable gifts and touching or humourous moments.

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