by Janie Deleon Male

The holiday season can be such a wonderful time for family and friends to share together; it is a time for creating memories and honoring family traditions. Unfortunately, the holiday season can also be a stressful and depressing time for many seniors.

Seniors can feel confused and isolated during the holidays but there are ways to make this a much more enjoyable time for them by following a few guidelines.

Holidays are a time when memories can be shared. Engage your aging family member in the re-counting of stories and memories with younger children. “Leading authorities have observed that memory and ‘life review’ are important parts of the aging process,” says Barry Lebowitz, Ph.D., deputy director of the University of California – San Diego’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging. Often, older people may have difficulty in remembering recent events but can share stories from the past.

It can also be helpful if you plan ahead and think about how you can include your older family member in the planning, cooking and celebrating of the holiday. It is also important that you be mindful that the senior might need a “time out” from the family to rest and have a reprieve from the hubbub of all the holiday activities.

The “holiday blues” can be a big problem because depression can have a dangerous effect on older people. Keeping alcohol consumption and exposure to sunlight to a minimum can really have a positive impact on one’s mental state at this time. Of course, reaching out to your relatives can also do wonders for preventing loneliness during the holidays.

Safety is also a primary concern. Paying attention to safety hazards such as area rugs, steps and other obstacles is important when hosting your relative at your house. Additionally, don’t forget to remind your family member to take all medications. With the change in routine, important medications can often be delayed or forgotten.

Oftentimes this time of year is as difficult on the caregiver as on the senior. This may be especially trying if the elder has Alzheimer’s disease or some other cognitive impairment. It is important that caregivers do not forget that this is a time when they should feel joyous too. The holidays can run more smoothly if the caregiver enlists the help of other family members during the holiday gathering. Talking with family in advance and making a “game plan” is a wise choice. Asking for help and shifting responsibilities can make the experience more gratifying for all. For example, if you are used to hosting the large family dinner but also are providing most of the caregiving for your parent, you may consider asking someone else to host the dinner at his or her home.

Overall, with some advance planning and forethought, this holiday season can be a memorable occasion for your entire family. Be considerate of any limitations of your loved one and don’t forget to ask for the help that you need. Let us hear how you spent your holidays and were able to make new memories and start new family traditions.

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