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How to have Hopeful Holidays with your Senior

The world is full of bad news. Wars, violence, worries about the economy, and global warming calamities are on our minds and our screens. This year the holidays present a bigger challenge for joy and good cheer. Music and decorations can’t make us feel good and optimistic about the future right now.
Our aging parents are of particular concern. They are facing a dreary winter with limited natural light, cold, and being stuck indoors. They are often lonely, and the coming season will make them lonelier. What can we do to keep them connected and less lonely? We’re all aware that loneliness is the big holiday killer and that the new findings of the Harvard study on adult happiness supports the importance of human connection. 85 years of study by researchers has yielded the key finding that positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer.

Before we offer some suggestions for infusing your senior’s holiday season with hope and connection, let’s focus on prevention of negative feelings. Don’t use screens as grandma sitters. Tell the aide or other person living in the house that watching the news is harmful to your mother’s mental health. Suggest other activities for the times when she would normally watch scheduled news programs. Change up her routines for those times.  

Pets are messy and require care. But they are great cheerer uppers and connection builders. If a kitten isn’t practical for medical or other reasons, consider buying a bird feeder. Hanging a bird feeder outside a window and stocking it regularly will bring company to your parent. She will wait for the birds to come and watch them snack and come back. It’s not the same as cat videos.

Virtual gatherings will be enjoyable and be anticipated. Remember that experiences are reviewed in the brain again and again. A person gets exponential pleasure from one positive experience which can be recalled again or viewed again if it is recorded.  Organize virtual get-togethers via Zoom with family and friends. Consider setting up a special holiday-themed video call where everyone can share stories, play games, or just chat. For extra impact, have everyone dress up in their holiday finery in honor of the occasion. Don’t forget to record the session so that mom can watch it again and again.

Here’s another tip to make this easy. Don’t wait for everyone to be available before setting it up. Just do it. And set up another time for those that can’t make it to the first gathering. This will ensure that another gathering will happen, thereby increasing grandma’s social interactions. Turn this activity into a loop, choosing a participant in the latest gathering to set up the next one. Continue popcorning to pass on the responsibility once a month for grandma’s pleasure and everyone’s family communication.

Faith and religious beliefs can be anchors when a person is down and susceptible to the angst of loneliness. Even if an individual is not part of a faith community, recalling customs, songs, and music of the spiritual practices of one’s past can be comforting and soothing. Encourage the senior to share stories and memories of past holidays. Taking photo albums will be encourage conversation. Record these storytelling sessions on video or audio to create a keepsake that they can share with loved ones.
Here’s a great gift that keeps giving. Sign up your seniors for online classes or workshops related to their interests. It could be painting, knitting, language learning, or anything they’ve wanted to explore. The sessions will be stimulating for the brain as well as good for emotional health.

Research and discuss online volunteering opportunities such as online tutoring for school age kids in reading, math, and writing. These relationship building activities will be a win-win and have your senior coming back for more.

You can also check with your local senior center and library to see what virtual programming they offer. More and more zoom programs are targeted towards seniors. The subjects are varied-board games, movie stars, book club discussions, virtual tours, and art lectures. Some are hybrid sessions which will give the senior a choice of venue, as well as encourage them to come in-person and meet the other participants. Social connection and engagement are the goals.

Making your senior’s holidays full of hope and connection just takes a little planning.

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About the Author

Faigie Horowitz

Faigie Horowitz

Faigie Horowitz, MS serves as director of communication at Caring Professionals. She advocates for the senior population on the state level and writes about senior and caregiver issues. She is a columnist for several periodicals. She has spent decades in nonprofit management and serves as a lay leader and founder of several community organizations.

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