The holidays are times filled with family and celebration, and there’s no better time to connect or reconnect with aging loved ones. But supporting seniors during the hustle and bustle of the season takes some planning.
Experts say these connections provide a significant health benefit for retirees. “Staying in touch with seniors during the holidays is important,” said Jennifer Knecht, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Immanuel Communities, headquartered in Omaha, Neb. “Family connections help combat isolation faced by many seniors and can also help identify potential health concerns.”
Whether you’re near or far, there are plenty of ways to stay connected and to celebrate with aging loved ones this holiday season. Knecht offers her best holiday tips from the senior living experts at Immanuel:
- Check-in Often
The holidays are a great time to connect, and beyond Christmas day, frequent check-ins are important, especially in assessing how loved ones are doing physically and emotionally. The holidays are a joyous time, but retirees may feel more reminiscent. Frequent phone calls or visits offer a welcomed distraction and provide an opportunity to assess health needs or concerns.
- Listen to Concerns
Seniors may experience an array of emotions, even worries about winter and the holiday season. Don’t assume you know or understand how they’re feeling. Use open ended questions like, “How are you feeling with the holidays/winter coming up?” Emotions may range from happy and busy to lonely, worried and left out. Be understanding and voice your own concerns as well.
- Be Sensitive to Health Limitations
For many seniors, physical and health limitations can make traditional holiday events more difficult. Anticipate these challenges early to make participating in the activity easier for seniors. Transportation is often a top concern but also be sensitive to loved ones who suffer from memory loss who may find large crowds and activities overwhelming.
- About Transportation…
Transportation is often a major barrier for your aging loved ones getting involved holiday events. Whether they live across country or around the corner, snow, ice or health conditions can all be transportation barriers. Arranging transportation is a great solution, but make sure your loved one is comfortable with the arrangements. Involve them as much as possible in the decision making.
- Reinvent Holiday Traditions
Go back to the holiday traditions you remember sharing with your senior loved ones. Chances are, they remember those events and festivities fondly. And whether you still practice those traditions or whether they’ve fallen aside, it may be time to reinvent. Perhaps you remember decorating Christmas cookies with Mom. If baking together is no longer possible, a trip to a bakery or delivered cookies could bring needed holiday cheer to both of you. Above all, share memories. A look at old photo albums and reminiscing about cherished childhood holidays can help your aging loved one feel important and remembered during this special time.
- Get Creative
There are so many creative ways to celebrate the season with your senior loved ones. Build on old traditions like dinners and decorating with new, inventive festivities. Offer to take your loved ones holiday shopping, to a holiday concert or tree lighting. Include them in festive activities like card sending or crafts with the kids.
- Get Them Involved
Seniors may face the need to re-define their roles during the holidays. Where in years past, they organized and hosted, they now see younger generation taking over. Try to include your aging loved ones in favorite traditions. Helping prepare a special holiday dish or saying the prayer at dinner are all ways seniors can remain included in the festivities.
- Get Yourself Involved
Retirement living communities, senior centers, church groups, clubs and more can all provide holiday festivities for seniors. Ask your aging loved one about events they’re planning on attending and see if you can attend as well. The benefit of retirement communities are social activities run by staff who understand the challenges seniors face during the holidays.
- Be Thoughtful with Gifts
Thoughtful gifts make all the difference around the holidays, so be intentional with your aging loved ones and do some research. Paid transportation services, a plane ticket or a snow shoveling service may all provide extra support and peace of mind that seniors would really appreciate during the winter months. Ask your loved ones what they would like and be thoughtful with your time. A few extra visits or phone calls could mean more than anything wrapped.
- Extend Compassion
Reassure your senior loved ones of how important they are in your life. There’s no better time than the holidays to share compassion and a few simple words can do so much. Talk to your loved ones about any struggles they’re having during the season and offer support. If you’re having trouble starting the conversation, experts, like those at Immanuel, can help.
Immanuel’s living communities in southeast Nebraska and central Iowa, offer such experts who connect with families not only during the season, but year-round.
“Our staff help families find joy, not only during the holidays, but year-round,” said Knecht. “Retirement living communities provide that social component that is often missing for seniors. And this time of year, special activities are offered where the entire family can engage.”
Senior living consultants at Immanuel Communities have helped thousands of families start the conversation with their aging loved ones. These experts are available at all 16 of Immanuel’s living communities located in Lincoln, Omaha and Papillion, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa. As a not-for-profit organization, it’s their mission to help you find answers to all your retirement living questions.