The holidays can be a lonely time of year for aging seniors. Decreased mobility, fewer loved ones with whom to celebrate, and changing neighborhoods can make it difficult to spend time with friends and family during the holiday season. According to the Administration on Aging1, one in five adults 65 to 74 years old lives alone, and that figure increases to four in 10 among those 85 and older. Living alone isn’t the same as feeling lonely, but these seniors may be more at risk of experiencing loneliness. In fact, 43% of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis and, because of this, face a 45% increased risk of mortality.
Unfortunately, the holiday season tends to intensify these feelings and can increase the associated health risks. That’s why companionship is so important for aging adults. We want to provide ideas and resources for helping aging seniors navigate the holidays and understanding how to combat feelings of loneliness this season – and how home care providers can help.
During the Holidays
The time frame between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is typically filled with parties, events, and celebrations among family and friends. Here are a few ways to include aging loved ones in the festivities.
Bring together young and old
Offer to bring elderly loved ones to your child’s holiday parade, classroom party, or concert. Spending time with the youngest family members is often what brings seniors the most joy and seeing their little faces light up warms their heart like little else can.
Many seniors are on a tight budget, so packaging up sweets to give to family and friends can be an inexpensive way to participate in gift giving. If you’re hosting a baking day, invite grandparents to join you, or ask each participant to bake an extra dozen to give to an aging relative. Kids – especially the younger ones – tend to bring a lot of arts and crafts home during the holidays – consider sharing some of these with grandparents or elderly neighbors. Receiving homemade crafts from little ones is a great way to let them know they’re in your thoughts.
Sending holiday cards isn’t as much a part of the season as it was a generation ago. That can be difficult for aging seniors whose only connections with some family and friends come through this tradition each year. Over the years, they might receive fewer and fewer cards, and those they do receive can bring sad news. Have each member of your family make and send a holiday card, photograph or drawing so that your loved one has more cards to open and read. If possible, ask your loved one to set aside any holiday cards she receives so that you can open them together. Play holiday music and encourage your loved one to share stories about each person from whom they receive a card.
Next to retail displays, seeing Christmas lights pop up around neighborhoods is likely the first sign of the approaching holidays. Consider taking your aging loved ones on a drive to check them out, whether that’s at a local park or through neighborhoods close to home. This is a safe, fun way to get seniors – even those with mobility issues – out for a bit to enjoy the season. If you plan to go caroling, add their home as a stop along the way, or videotape the event so that seniors can enjoy hearing the carols any time.
The most important thing you can do is spend time with aging loved ones during this time of year. Look at family photos, watch home videos or holiday movies, listen to seasonal music, bake treats or do crafts. Regardless of what you decide to do together, any time you can spend with an aging loved one is a gift they’ll treasure.
Home care help
Home care providers can offer transportation or help secure public transport so that aging family members can participate in events outside of their neighborhood. They can also help schedule visits so that elderly people aren’t caught off guard by unannounced visitors.
With all the celebrating at this time of year, it can be more difficult to eat healthy, exercise and avoid too much alcohol. Home care providers can also help aging seniors get the appropriate amount of exercise, prepare healthful meals, and avoid an overabundance of the tempting treats that typically come along with the season.
After the Holidays
One in four Americans2 suffers from some form of depression after the holidays. The post-holiday blues can be even more pronounced in those living alone. After all the excitement has died down, remember to check in on elderly loved ones. If you don’t live close by, consider scheduling a time each week to call so that they can look forward to speaking with you.
Volunteering can give seniors a sense of purpose, make them feel a part of the community and have a positive impact on their overall wellness3. Charities tend to receive the largest amount of donations and volunteers during the holiday season, but once the New Year celebration has come and gone, these organizations face a lack of help. Encourage seniors to volunteer if able. Schools, churches, community centers, local food pantries and other non-profit organizations are all great places to start.
Home care help
When you can’t be there, a home care provider can fill in with much needed companionship and care. In addition to offering transportation, they can also ensure seniors are safe while at home with someone who can help them navigate slippery surfaces and steps.
Thinking Ahead to Next Year
These days it seems as though stores go from promoting Back to School to putting up Holiday displays in the blink of an eye. There’s little time to settle in to Pumpkin Spice season before we’re reminded to start buying gifts and decorating the house. For lonely seniors, this only serves to create depression or loneliness that much sooner; missing loved ones who’ve passed away, old neighborhood friends who’ve moved on, or grown children with busy lives of their own. Including seniors in some of your activities leading up to the holidays can help to combat these feelings.
As the seasons change and colder weather settles in, think about how you might be able to help aging family members prepare for the winter months and the holidays. Invite aging family members or neighbors to help give out candy on Halloween or stop by before dark so that young family members can show off their costumes. When rain turns to ice and snow, drop by to clear off and salt sidewalks and driveways. If you’ll be hosting Thanksgiving, consider extending an invitation to elderly family members of your guests. Invite elderly friends and family over in the days after Thanksgiving to help decorate the Christmas tree or make time to help them put up some simple decorations in their own home.
Home care help
Home care providers can provide year-round assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, and taking care of household chores. Seniors who are Veterans or surviving spouses of Veterans may be eligible for the Pension with Aid and Attendance benefit4, which can be used to help offset the cost of home care services. This may be especially helpful to the more than 30% of Veteran care recipients5 who have no health insurance or regular source of health care.
Veterans Care Coordination’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Veterans and their families. This month we’re focused on ensuring that aging seniors are taken care of throughout the holiday season. We partner with quality home care providers to help navigate the VA’s process of applying for pension funds and help to maximize VA pension funds and get care started as quickly as possible.