“Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases.” I recently read this quote by Steve Cole, Ph.D. Social Genomics Lab, UCLA, and it really stuck with me, especially after the year we have had. The year where everything has changed. Now that it is the holiday season you can’t help but wonder how the holidays will change as well. The holidays can be a lonely time for a lot of people but especially for aging seniors, who have faced the greatest impact from COVID.

According to the Administration on Aging, 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. The holiday season can intensify these feelings but on top of that there is a global pandemic causing further isolation. So, what can we do to help?

As the daughter of a marine I often heard the phrase “improvise, adapt and overcome” when I was growing up. If 2020 has taught us anything it is that things change. If we can’t invite aging loved ones over for Christmas dinner then we need to come up with a new plan, so let’s improvise, adapt, and overcome, to make the 2020 holiday season one to remember, but for all the right reasons.

Homemade Holidays

Many seniors are on a tight budget, so packaging up sweets to drop off at their door can be an inexpensive way to participate in gift giving. 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.

Season’s Greetings

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 over a video call. Play holiday music and encourage your loved one to share stories about each person from whom they receive a card.

Christmas Caroling

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. Ask ahead of time if they have any requests for their favorite Christmas songs.

Christmas Light Displays

Seeing Christmas lights pop up around neighborhoods is likely the first sign of the approaching holidays. While wearing masks and taking all precautions, 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.

Time Together

The most important thing you can do is spend time with aging loved ones during this time of year and you can still do that through technology. Set up a video call to 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, do it together in a safe way. 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 safely in events outside of their neighborhood. They can also help set up virtual visits so that the elderly can connect with family members in the safety of their own home. Home care providers can also help aging seniors get the appropriate amount of exercise, prepare healthy meals, and avoid an overabundance of the tempting treats that typically come along with the season.

When you can’t be there, a home care provider can fill in with much needed companionship and care. They can also ensure seniors are safe and happy while at home with someone who is there to help.