As the holidays are fast approaching, many seniors can feel overwhelmed with lots of emotions. Some are joyful, pleasant, and filled with gratitude. However, with more seniors living alone or with no family nearby, it can also be a challenge to stay positive and happy when the holidays are here. Loneliness can lead to feelings of despair, due to reduced social interaction or isolation. This is more prevalent in older adults over 65 with no connection to others. Sometimes this happens because of the social demographics around them, such as loved ones passing away, no neighborhood community involvement, or they may not have the mobility to get out to be apart of the holiday season around them. Having holiday activities set in place for seniors is especially important. This can help seniors feel wanted or needed. Being apart of holiday activities, whether with family or within a community can also help them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Why Some Seniors Experience Holiday Loneliness
There could be a variety of reasons why seniors become lonely during the holidays. One may because of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), those that are higher risk for depression are socially isolated seniors. Below are three reasons why loneliness sets in during the holidays for seniors.
- Missing loved ones: This could be a close friend that has moved away and you no longer talk to, a family member who has passed on, or a combination of both. Whatever it is, the holidays have made you miss them and this has made you feeling sad.
- Memories of past holidays: This could be pleasant memories of special events, traditions, or the people in your life. Or it may be past memories that was not so pleasant and you want to forget. Whichever it is, these can trigger many emotions that can make a person feeling sad and alone.
- Feeling social pressure: What you see on social media is usually portrayed as social gatherings of happy and loving individuals with no arguments, no yelling, and no disagreements- this picture of goodness is not always the best image of reality. Things go wrong, food can burn, and friends or family members that don’t show up can cause the holidays to become very stressful for the elderly.
Tips for Reducing Loneliness During the Holidays
Although the holiday season is often filled with joyful events and good memories, it can also cause stress to those living alone. Many seniors may live a great distance from the ones they care about. Some may mourn a loss of a spouse. This season could even be the first time without them. To help cope with this loneliness, here are some tips to help reduce loneliness during the holidays.
1. Start your holiday planning early
Plan out a holiday schedule of what needs to be done for next few weeks before the big day arrives. Make sure the majority of the week keeps you busy. Discuss your plans for the holidays with loved ones and close friends. It may also be nice to Invite them over to help plan your holiday as well. If you are alone, then seek out new ways to make meaning memories for yourself.
2. Volunteer whereever and whenever possible
Although it is often seniors that need help as they age, many older adults who can still get around and are mobile have a strong desire to help others in need as well. This will not only lesson the feelings of loneliness, it is also nice to help those who are less fortunate than yourself. Many seniors can volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and retirement homes. Some seniors may also enjoy making animal balloons for children in a pediatric wing of a hospital during the holidays.
3. Join social and community gatherings
One of the best ways to combat loneliness as a senior is to join social gatherings, especially during the holiday season. You are more than likely will enjoy being around others than home all by yourself. Meet up at coffee shops or libraries, such as a book club. Surround yourself at local events where people you know will be present.
4. Stay connected to loved ones
During the pandemic, the only way to stay connected to loved ones safely was virtuality through online. It was sometimes hard to be away from those we care about. Now that most things have got back to normal, staying connected to the ones we love is easier. Especially during the holiday season approaching, seniors should reach out to close family and friends to help with being alone. For those who have family not near, don’t worry. With advanced technology, seniors can now video chat by using skype or Facetime the ones you care about. Even after the holidays, continue to communicate with loved ones and share your experiences.
5. Invite family and friends over for a fun cooking or baking day
Bake some traditional and seasonal goodies and treats for the family and close friends to enjoy. Have them come over to participate in the cooking/baking, as long it is safe for them to be together in the kitchen. Use seasonal spices in the food, such as gingerbread, apple cinnamon, and pumpkin spice. Decorate the home with holiday decor. For those seniors who live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, ask the staff if it would be ok to take your loved one home for the holiday. If not, you can always bring the treats to them so they can still enjoy in the festivities.
Celebrating holidays with Seniors in Assisted living facilities
The holidays should be fun for all ages, even if your loved ones are living in an assisted living facility. Many people that live in these places feel isolated and alone. Especially if their loved ones do not always are around to visit them. The mental wellbeing of seniors who are alone in these homes can make them feel depressed and isolated. But there are ways for caregivers to reduce their loneliness and make the holidays positive and fun for all in the assisted living home. Here are some good tips to help ease their pain and lift their spirits.
- Decorate their room- Caregivers or loved ones who come to visit can participate in making their room filled with holiday cheer by adding garland to the walls, getting a mini tree with little ornaments, and hanging a wreath on the door.
- Arrange family visits- When family or friends come to visit, make sure there are presents for everyone to open. This allows the senior to feel included in the holiday event.
- Plan a holiday-themed movie to watch- If the assisted living facility has a great room or living room for all the residents, then plan a holiday movie night (or afternoon) that is joyful, funny, and filled with love.
- Plan video chatting- For those with family away, arrange video chats or Facetime, so residents can see their family members virtually.
- Keep it low-key for those mentally-challenged- If you have a loved one with dementia, make the holiday celebration simple and stress-free. Too much overstimulation can cause confusion and may agitate the older adult. It is also wise to make the holiday gathering small. The least amount of people, the less stress for the dementia patient. For more information on those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, please check out our other articles.
- Plan a gift exchange party- Many families share in holiday traditions by doing a big gift exchange. In fact, everyone loves to open presents or watch as their love ones receive packages on this joyous occasion. This is fun not only for your older parents, but also when the grandkids come over and enjoy in this great pastime of exchanging gifts. If your older parents need help in knowing what to get for the grandkids, you can always send them a small suggestion list of what the grandkids favorite hobbies are or what is trending online.
Other Ideas for Seniors during the holidays
Participate in social activities through local organizations
Whether at churches, temples, or mosques, participating in social events through nonprofit and local organizations are a great place to meet new people and enjoy the holidays. Even if you are not religious, there are plenty of social activities that seniors can do through charity events. For example, some churches open their doors to the homeless when the weather is cold. They may also feed the homeless during the holidays. These acts of kindness can help seniors feel good about helping others and keep their minds off of feeling alone.
Tap into your inner creative side while hanging with friends or family
Figure out what you like to do to, whether it’s exploring a new hobby or working on a craft you haven’t done in a while, and do it with the family during the holiday season. You can participate in a knitting or sewing class, a candlemaking course, or an authentic cooking class. Chances are, other people in the family will want to join in on the fun as well. It can turn into a night that no one will ever forget.
Be aware of your spending
It is so easy to go a little overboard with your finances, especially during the holiday season. Between buying gifts for the grandkids or close friends, some people may lose control of how much they spend in just a few weeks before Christmas day even arrives. Seniors should plan ahead of how much they should spend for each member of the family, including close friends that come over for the holiday. Seniors can also get organized with their finances making a list of only close friends and family, and only buying presents for those on the list. By staying organized with a holiday budget, seniors can not only reduce stress, but also refrain from over spending.
How Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease can still enjoy the Holiday season
Some adult children that have older parents living in a nursing home or an assisted living facility may wonder of it is safe to bring home their elderly parent, especially if they are mentally challenged. If they have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it may be better to celebrate the holiday in their room at the nursing home. To help decide, it may be a good idea to ask her first, that is if she is responsive. Here are some things to consider before you make the final decision.
- Depending how long the stay will be, your loved one may feel too tired to stay for long periods of time and may need a helping hand with personal care.
- Adult children should make the elderly parent welcomed and reassure her that all will be okay while she is there.
- If the older parent feels afraid or her emotions seem to be off a bit, remind her that she is not a burden and that everyone is excited to see her this holiday.
- If your loved one does have Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other type of cognitive impairment, it may be best to not take her out of a familiar environment, such as a nursing home. They could easily become disoriented and confused, which you don’t want to happen.
- Keep in mind, certain elderly people with dementia may enjoy the holiday events, and look forward to them throughout the year. However, there are others who can become easily rattled when it comes to routine or schedule changes. SOme also do not not load music or busy, crowded rooms of people.
Creating an atmosphere that is uplifting and positive is what seniors need and truly want during the holiday season. This will prevent them from having feelings of doubt, loneliness, or hopelessness. Focus on what really matters: being together during the holidays. When we keep the true meaning of the season as an exciting pastime, it will bring good cheer to seniors for yeears to come.