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Making the Holidays Merry and Bright for Seniors

As President of Senior Citizens Inc., I am often asked for suggestions for making the holidays as enjoyable as possible for our older adults. The holidays are indeed a time of fun, family, and friendships but they can also be overwhelming with all of the activities, gift buying and traditions. As we get older or if health has become an issue, these long lists of “to dos” can be daunting. Here are some tips for keeping this the most wonderful time of the year regardless of age.

Tip 1: Decide what is really important. Take a few moments to separate what is essential to a meaningful holiday versus what is expected. Maybe it’s having the holiday dinner with family or exchanging gifts with your closest friends. Once you decide what is essential, you can then say “no” to other things if you start to feel overwhelmed. The key is to keep those traditions that bring the true moments of joy. 

And don’t be afraid to start new traditions or modify the old ones. Be creative! Instead of making cookies for everybody in the neighborhood, make one batch and invite the neighbors over for coffee and a few cookies. If the holidays usually involve dinner at your grandparents’ table, simplify the menu or have a pot luck versus imposing the entire meal preparation on your grandparents. I guarantee that the event will be just as full of meaning and joy.

Tip 2: Pay attention to your health. Keep your diet consistent and try to resist eating ALL of the goodies available. If you are taking medication, make sure to maintain normal dosages and times. Check your prescriptions  for any restrictions they may have such as alcohol consumption and food interactions. Keep to your regular schedule. If you usually go to bed at 10:00, try to make that your goal through the holidays. Try to add a little more physical activity during this season as well.

Learn to recognize the signs of fatigue in yourself and others. If you feel irritable, a little foggy mentally or just plain tired, REST! You don’t have to lie down (although who doesn’t love a good nap?) Just sit down for a few minutes or even better, go sit in the sun. A recent study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that a few minutes of direct sunlight rejuvenates our bodies better than a nap! And, lastly, try to graciously accept help when it is offered.

Tip 3: Acknowledge that things may have changed. If your or a loved one’s health has changed dramatically over the year and there are some limitations, talk to your family prior to the gathering and prepare them. This will reduce stress and embarrassment for everyone concerned and allow time to modify activities and expectations.

If the year has brought the loss of a loved one, as wonderful as the holidays are, they can also magnify one’s sense of loss. Every person deals with grief differently, so try to be sensitive to how you and others may be feeling. Many people find that it helps to acknowledge those who are gone by displaying a picture or donating to a cause in their loved one’s name. For some, it is important to carry on as usual but if it is too painful for you to follow your traditions, consider doing something different…a new tradition! Remember that it’s ok to scale back, but don’t “do nothing.” Being with others always helps with handling the expected ups and downs.

Final tip: Rethink the gift giving. As the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts! If funds are limited, make someone’s favorite dessert. Suggest a coffee date to mark the holiday, rather than a more expensive lunch or dinner. Remember Tip #1: Decide what is really important…usually, the size of a gift isn’t on that list.

If you are buying for an older adult, give practical gifts. Unless someone has expressed that they really want that Hummel figurine, stick to gifts that are useful. Offer to run errands, plan an outing to a favorite place, make heat-and-eat dinners for eating later, or arrange for Meals on Wheels to visit each day with lunch.

Or consider making a gift to someone who might not be sharing the holidays with families and friends. Our community has many excellent nonprofit organizations that can offer suggestions and even assist with delivery. This is the perfect gift for someone who “has everything” or for remembering a loved one. Best of all, it’s a great way to ensure that everyone’s holiday will be merry and bright!