Do the holidays stir up warm memories of baked goods, caroling, toasty firesides, and family fun? Or does the mere thought of a celebration send you into a panic about all the things you need to do, all the people you need to support, and all the challenges you’ll face in supporting an ailing senior? If you’re like most people, you probably feel a mix of warmth, dread, excitement, and anxiety when you contemplate the holiday season. Make this holiday count for every member of your family, including seniors who are struggling, with these tips.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care matters. You can’t fill others up if you’re operating with an empty gas tank. So spend some time thinking about what you need to do to get through the holiday season. Ask yourself:
- Is there anything I can do to reduce holiday stress? Which traditions are most important, and which can I let fall by the wayside?
- What do I want to happen most this holiday season, and what will make this happen?
- What can I delegate to other people?
- What do I need to do to tend to my own needs? A standing massage appointment, a weekly reading hour, or a daily nap can all make a big difference in your well-being.
Plan Healthy Meals
Healthy food is fuel for everything you do this holiday season. So don’t just focus on a single big holiday meal. Make sure everyone has plenty of healthy snacks, such as protein-rich nuts and cheese, easy-to-eat fruits like blueberries and raspberries, and healthy sweet treats like yogurt.
When planning your holiday meal, a few tips can help everyone enjoy the festivities:
- Some seniors struggle to chew or swallow their food. Consider serving foods that are easily cut into small pieces, as well as sides that require little chewing, such as mashed potatoes.
- Tastes can change with age. Many seniors crave very flavorful food. Try adding more seasonings for a senior who complains that their meal is bland.
- Be mindful of dietary restrictions, including diabetic needs, food allergies, and other common struggles. It’s easy to replace one side with another. For example, sweet potatoes are a better option for most diabetics, and many desserts don’t require eggs, making them safe for people with egg allergies.
It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who can — or will — do everything. The holidays do not have to be perfect, and you do not have to do it all. Accept help in whatever form it comes — whether it’s your preschooler offering to wipe down countertops or your grandmother helping to decorate the table. Some great strategies to get more help include:
- Asking each guest to bring a side to dinner
- Assigning specific duties to specific family members
- Ensuring each person with special needs, such as a senior with dementia or a cousin with a developmental disability, has an appointed helper who spends time with them and tends to their needs
- Downsizing the work you do if you don’t have enough support or don’t get much enjoyment out of a particular task
Know the Signs of Depression
The holidays are an emotionally tricky time. There’s a great deal of pressure to perform happiness even when you’re struggling. It’s normal to feel grief for times past, or to feel frustrated or overwhelmed. Similarly, you may notice your loved ones struggling more over the holidays.
Depression is more than just sadness. It can feel overwhelming and unbearable, but is also treatable. If you feel hopeless, worthless, guilty, or unmotivated, you may be struggling with depression. Your loved ones may be depressed if they don’t enjoy family events they once relished, sleep too much or too little, seem apathetic or despondent, or suddenly have a bad temper.
Understand Seniors’ Needs
When you’re a caregiver to a senior, it’s easy to spend so much time thinking about what the senior should have that you don’t think about what they want. The fact that your senior has physical or intellectual limitations does not mean that they want different things or will feel good about being excluded. Expect that your loved one still wants to be included, honored, and respected. Then find ways to do this. Listen to what your loved one says, and if at all possible, honor their requests. A parent with dementia who wants to make the holiday meal can still feel important if you let them help with dessert or spend time playing with the kids.
Establish New Traditions
As people age, traditions inevitably change. Your dad may no longer be able to make his famous Christmas Eve French toast. Your mom might not be able to participate in Hanukkah festivities like she once did. The frustrating thing is that as families change, these traditions may feel even more important because of the way they connect people and establish continuity across generations. So find ways to preserve traditions if you can. If you can’t, don’t waste the holiday season grieving what you’ve lost. Find new traditions that may be just as fun. A family cookie-baking evening, a Thanksgiving meal at a fabulous restaurant, and any number of other fun events may reduce stress and make for a meaningful holiday.
At Arbor, we believe in honoring old traditions and shaping new ones. We give seniors a safe, fun place to call home while helping families manage the myriad challenges of caregiving. We’d love to welcome you to one of our many holiday events so you can explore what Arbor is all about. Give us a call or send us an email to learn more!
Think About Long-Term Care Needs
The brutality of winter — and the illnesses it often brings — encourage many families to think about long-term care needs for seniors. Consider your long-term health, and assess whether your current living situation is working for you. The right senior living community offers effortless nutrition. Seniors can enjoy gourmet dining that’s customized for their unique nutritional needs. You don’t have to worry about grocery shopping, food preparation, or how you’ll stay healthy this winter.