When many of us think of the holidays, we think of festivities, food and fellowship. We imagine turkey coming out of the oven, the warmth of fireplaces and family, and time away from work to recharge for the new year.
But for some seniors, the holidays can be a difficult – even depressing – time. According to recent data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, about a third of all seniors report being lonely. The holidays could make that loneliness worse. They may no longer be able to attend gatherings, make their favorite recipes or host loved ones in their homes.
Here are 5 things you can do to make the holidays brighter for your mom or dad:
- Stop what you’re doing and stop by to see them. For a lot of people, December can be one of the busiest times of the year. Work may be slowing down but your to-do list at home is getting longer. Rushing from party to party, decorating the house, shopping for gifts, planning for the kids to be out of school, making cookies, visiting Santa … the list can go on and on. But meanwhile, your parents may have very little to do – and they might be hesitant to ask you to come by because they know you’re so busy. Coordinate with other families to set times to go by and see them. Have your kids make Christmas cards or other treats that can be left behind as reminders of a fun visit. When possible, include them in your activities.
- Communicate more than usual. If you’re unable to stop by and see them frequently, call or text and let you know you’re thinking about them. Ask questions about their day. Tell them about exciting things going on in your life. Ask your mom about the recipes she used to make. It will give her a chance to think back fondly about when she was able to host the holidays, and it will let you know you still value her. Ask your dad’s advice – even if you don’t need it – on how to hang Christmas lights or the best way to pick out a tree. He’ll feel important and involved. Ask them to tell you old stories that will jar positive memories.
- Send gifts. Whether it’s little cards or foods they enjoy, a gift can really perk up their day. If you have the time, make a scrapbook or photo album of some of your favorite memories together. There are websites now that allow you to upload all of your photos and create a book online. The site will then produce the book and ship it to your parents. You can even add notes to them.
- Check on activities for them. If your parents are still living at home, see if there are activities nearby that they could attend or ask neighbors to stop by for a visit. If they’re in an assisted living facility, check online for the calendar of activities. This will give you a chance to know what they’re up to and what their options are when you talk to them or come by to visit. At Savanna House, our residents stay busy with a community of friends. We have activities rooms, arts and crafts, a beauty salon/spa, courtyards, lounges, a movie theater, multipurpose rooms and multiple dining areas.
- Rely on technology. If your parents are tech-savvy enough to use computers or smartphones, have video chats with them. This will serve two purposes: It will give them a boost when they see you and the grandkids, but it will also give you a chance to check on their appearance and mental well-being. If you’re unable to visit for the holidays, this could be the next best thing.