Reducing Loneliness in Elders During the Holidays

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We all know that this holiday season has a very different feel for everyone than in years passed. More seniors will be forced to spend the holidays alone, so join me to chat about some things that could help our seniors feel the love that they are so needing.

Welcome to “The Seniors Circle” where we hope to inspire and help others by providing valuable, relative information related to caring for an elderly loved one. Hi, my name is Dawn Neely and I’ll be your host. Thank you for joining us.

Many people feel pressured into getting into the spirit, where everything is merry and bright, but for our seniors, even during a normal year, the holidays can be a very lonely time. Many people are concerned for their senior loved ones this year, especially, as they know that there is even more isolation with the COVID pandemic.

The yuletide spirit for many brings on many happy and heart warming thoughts, but for our elderly, it also brings on a certain loneliness. There are losses that our seniors inevitably experience that make celebrating a challenge. Lost love ones, friends that fall ill and pass away, and changing living environments can bring on loneliness and frustration with the things that our seniors can no longer do or experience.

There is a great deal of focus given to family and friends during the holiday season and while some people will be able to gather and spend time with their loved ones, COVID has definitely changed the landscape for most of our family plans. Our loved ones need to feel engaged and supported, and it is important to promote these feelings while being safe. It will be difficult to navigate the pandemic while also making sure that the isolation does not become too overwhelming for our senior loved one. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, older adults that are socially isolated are at a much higher risk for depression.

It’s a very busy season and you probably have many plates up in the air, but if you sense that your senior loved one is feeling lonely or depressed, there are some things that you can try to help lift their spirits. It’s important remember the true meaning of the season, the things that are truly important and the people that you truly care about. It might be time to turn down the noise a little and focus on what is truly important. Use some of the following ideas to help boost your loved one’s spirits if you feel that they are struggling:

If your senior is in a long term facility, you may wanna try to connect with the activities director to find out if they can assist with organizing virtual visits for you and your family. You could take it a step further and try to engage with a school so that there could be virtual visits with students. Studies show that the interaction with younger adults can be very uplifting. There might be a pet therapist that you could coordinate a visit with so that your loved one can engage meaningfully and be uplifted. Animals tend to bring a great sense of joy to our seniors.

Remind them how important they are as a part of your life, your family members’ 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 doing and be especially careful not to act like what you do for them is done out of a sense of duty. Show them they are loved.

Remember that the practice of sending Christmas cards is something that our seniors have enjoyed for many years. As the years progress, however, these same cards tend to bring with them sad news and the number of cards received decreases. It’s a good idea to actually be with your loved one while they are opening cards in order to provide the support for them that they need as they take on difficult news. You might wanna enlist your friends and family to pitch in and send upbeat cards and news to brighten their spirits. If you can, help your loved one prepare cards to send out themselves, making them feel engaged and connected with the ones they love.

Check with your loved one’s religious organization to see if they can offer social and/or spiritual support. For example, the Stephen Ministry is a program offered by many Christian churches that provides one-on-one support to those who are having difficulties in life. Many churches can arrange for a congregant or leader to visit a senior in need, either in person or virtually. Just having someone to talk to can go a really long way toward relieving depression.

Adding festive touches to their home or room in the long-term care facility, could be helpful as well. You’re gonna wanna start to make sure that these items don’t present a safety hazard, of course and try not to overwhelm them. And maybe decorate in stages to prolong the fun and give them something to look forward to. Many seniors love reflecting on past holidays as they unpack special decorations, so be sure to listen to their stories and ask about those special pieces. If you can’t be there in person, at least phone or video call while they’re decking the halls. Some small, easy-to-use decorations in senior apartments include, removable window clings, garland and artificial wreaths or floral arrangements. If you are unable to access the community, speak with the personnel there, they are usually very accommodating as their resident’s best interests are their primary concern.

Cook traditional food or treats with your loved ones, this always brings back great memories. If you are unable to get together, make the treats and send them to them so that they can enjoy them and maybe enjoy them with their friends. Send them decorative things for their table so they enjoy a festive atmosphere.

The most important thing you can do with a senior to make them feel loved and included this season is to simply spend time with them in a safe way. Look at family photos, watch home videos or holiday movies, listen to seasonal music, or do crafts together. For some families, these traditions may need to take place via FaceTime or Zoom or while both of you are social distancing and wearing masks. Regardless of what you decide to do together, any time that you can spare is a precious gift.

Knowing how to juggle your senior and the holidays can be challenging, especially while you are being limited in the type of contact you can have with them. Just know that whatever you are able to do is enough. You are enough. Do what you can and do it safely and it will be appreciated. Remember that this year things are just gonna be a little different, we are all facing difficulty of some nature and whatever effort you are able to safely put forward is good enough. Get creative and try to embrace the joy of the season. If you have any questions or would like some assistance with a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact us here at Seniors Helping Seniors at 248-969-4000.

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