Helping Seniors During the Holiday Season

by Marguerite Bushwick, LCSW, NCG

In my line of work I am always helping seniors, it’s why I know that it is often this joyous time of year that is the hardest for many. In the coming months many religions and cultures celebrate holidays. Magazines, social media and TV advertisements start their yearly campaigns of announcing the upcoming holidays showing images of love and joy; for many people, the reality of the holidays is not so cheerful.

While aging can bring wisdom and experience, there are inevitable losses that even the healthiest seniors face. Loved ones and friends fall ill and pass away. Energy and mobility levels often decrease, resulting in feelings of lost independence and opportunities. Neighborhoods change over time, leaving even those well enough to remain in their own homes feeling lonely. The focus on family, friends and togetherness during this time of year can actually bring melancholy feelings to the forefront. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can take hold, especially during the holidays, a time that in the past was filled with activities and traditions with family and friends.

Following are a few tips how we can enhance a senior’s holiday experience:

  • Make a point of actively listening when the senior wants to talk, even if the discussion is negative. An honest and empathic conversation can help the senior process what is bothering him/her, whether they are mourning a loss or coming to term with new challenges in their life.
  • Remind them how important they are as part of your life, your family member’s lives and these annual holiday celebrations. They may feel useless or burdensome if they cannot contribute to or fully participate in the festivities like they used to. Encourage them to do what they are capable of.
  • Over the years, holiday cards diminish in quantity and often bring bad news. Be gentle with your loved one if these annual greetings are an important tradition of theirs. If possible, ask other family members and friends to contribute a simple card, picture or drawing to help keep the senior’s seasonal mail more upbeat. If needed assist the senior to get and write their outgoing cards.
  • Help them add decorative touches to their home or room. Many seniors enjoy reflecting on past holidays as they unpack cherished decorations, so be sure to listen to their stories and as about special items.
  • Cook and bake traditional foods and treats with your senior.
  • If you cannot visit, call.
  • The most important thing you can do to make them feel loved and included is to spend time with them. Look at family photos, listen to seasonal music, or do crafts together.

Watch for ongoing signs of depression. What at first may seem like “holiday blues” could turn into depression if not treated. If signs of depression continue encourage them to seek help by contacting Jewish Family Service for a confidential consultation.

Wishing all a healthy new year, a year filled with gratitude.

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