- DR. MARION'S METHOD
- CAREGIVER TRAINING
Home For The Holidays
As the holiday season arrives, many families are full of excitement and expectation. But if you’re caring for an aging parent or loved one, you might be surprised to discover that the holidays are a time of sadness or loneliness for them. While younger people are busy running around getting gifts, making food, and putting up the decorations, your elder loved ones may be lamenting past holidays when they were at a happier place in their life. Others might not even be aware that the holidays are here.
Do all you can to make your older guests feel like they’re a vital part of the holidays. Including them in your festivities is a great first step, but remember: just because they are physically there, doesn’t mean they’re having a good time. Meet their specific needs and the entire family will have a more enjoyable holiday.
How can you meet their needs? First and foremost, make special considerations. Don’t just plop them down in front of the television or at the dining table. Involve them in as much of the preparation as possible. This includes wrapping the presents, chopping the nuts, or beating the eggs. Be sure you have the correct foods prepared if they have any specific dietary or medical needs. You could also make your elder the guest of honor who lights the candles or recites a special prayer if that occurs in your family. Many elderly like to sing holiday songs. It’s part of their long term memory. Whatever you plan, it has to be something that makes your elder feel present and in the middle of things in a genuine way.
Consider these additional ideas that make your loved one feel present in the excitement and love of the holidays:
Once at the get together, assign different family members to sit near your elder for one-to-one conversation and companionship. This role needs to rotate every hour if possible.
Make sure there is a comfortable environment for your loved one to take a nap, if need be.
Be ready to help your older guests to the bathroom. Take away the embarrassment sometimes associated with this task. Make sure someone stays with your elder to help with orientation to the various rooms of the home.
Manage your loved one’s clothing, too. Keep a sweater handy if he gets cold, and help him take it on and off. If he has to wear a bib when he eats, make sure it’s a stylish, functional one.
Pull out old family photos that include good times when your elder was younger. It’s fun for them to remember a fishing trip, a birthday party, Thanksgivings past, or other family events. It reminds them that they made a powerful contribution to the family. Give them time to tell their stories, even if you’ve heard them before.
And don’t let your interaction with an aging parent or loved one end with the holiday season. Younger family members quickly return to their regular, busy lives, but the elderly often don’t have much to keep them busy. Being removed from their family, especially right after so much holiday togetherness and celebration, could send them in to a real funk. Call or visit soon after the holidays to let them know you’re still thinking about them. Talk about the recent holiday and bring along any pictures that were taken. It helps them enjoy the event a second time. If you’re sending pictures, write the names, dates, occasion, and relationships on the back of the photo to help jog the memory and make it easier to show their friends.
I’ll end with a quick story. I was once hired by a close-knit family whose grandfather was confined to a wheelchair. He also had a hearing aide, and unfortunately, he was largely ignored at family functions. At their Christmas dinner, the family decided it was going to don Santa Claus hats and go caroling at a local nursing home. They didn’t want to bring the grandfather along for fear that he might think they'd leave him behind. But that didn’t feel right to me.
I told him we’d love for him to join us so he could spread joy to other people. He looked at me like I had lost my marbles and said, “I can’t sing. I don’t even know the words.” I told him, “Fake it. You’re coming with us.” He came along and was very quiet for the first two songs. But when we began singing “Jingle Bells,” everything clicked. He started belting it out, 100% off key, thoroughly enjoying himself! Make the effort to include your elder in the holidays, and they won’t have to fake a thing.
P.S. On a personal note: I’ve gone from GRANDmother to great GRANDmother overnight! My grand daughter's first daughter was born Sept 30th at 7:40 pm. Maya Zel weighed 7 lbs 6 ounces and was 20.5 inches long. I've held my daughter, I've held my grand daughter, and now I’ve held my great grand daughter. Words can't capture how the experience makes me feel!
Doctor Marion is a consultant, lecturer and experienced geriatric care manager. Her new website www.doctormarion.com provides direct support for anyone involved with caring for an aging parent or loved one. In more than three decades of private practice, Doctor Marion has helped thousands address the challenges facing caregivers. She can be reached at email@example.com. Doctor Marion currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
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