One definition of the word tradition is “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation”. Many of us enjoy celebrating the holidays by continuing our time-honored traditions. But as our family dynamics change and our loved ones start to age, we may need to adapt our traditions to the changing needs of our families. We all can get “put out” by the holiday hustle and bustle, but the stress that the holiday season can bring can be particularly difficult for the elderly.
Remember that travel may be easier for you than it is for them. Yes, you may have always met at Aunt Martha’s for Christmas Day, but this year that may not be realistic if getting to the destination requires catching a flight or a six-hour drive. The important thing is to do your best to involve your senior loved ones. Spend time with them and don’t add any guilt if they just can’t do what they once could.
If your loved one lives in an assisted living community check with the management and see what holiday events are planned. Making room at activities for family members and joining residents for meals is usually as easy as a phone call and making a reservation. This provides an easy time to enjoy food and fellowship without the fuss.
Many residents are very independent and enjoy getting out and enjoying your company. But when it comes to making plans, consider simple things like how far they may be expected to walk. Do they need walker access? Even considerations for stops for bathroom breaks need to be in the game plan. Mom might have been a power shopper just a few short years ago, but consider that with age, quick trips might not be so quick anymore. Planning ahead will make times together less stressful for you and your loved ones.
As each year passes, we grow to understand just how important making the most of times spent together can be. Modifying traditions and keeping the most important part of them intact is crucial. But remember the most treasured part of a tradition is the people that we share them with. As Charlie Brown once said, “It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree that matters, it’s who’s around it.”
It’s a bit surreal to think we are already bracing for another Black Friday! Now some of us might be scouring the Internet for the best cyber deals or some are still pinning DIYs to our Pinterest boards. But when it comes to being Santa to the seniors in our life, we have a gift giving guide to help save the day!
When I visit the rooms of most residents, the things that they typically want to share aren’t THINGS…they are photos or mementos from loved ones. So, take a little time and put together that scrapbook. Or for those that are more computer savvy, an online photobook that you design and print is always a hit! Even a picture book that gives a family tree type storyline is a great idea! Another way to share snapshots is through the calendars that feature family members for every month of the year. You can find great sites to create these items online. These are treasures that residents love to receive and share.
Warm and Soothing
As you probably already know, most elderly people like to stay warm. So, any type of crocheted blanket or even store bought throw is always well received. Other items that seniors love to have are those cozy socks with rubber gripped soles. Those are both warm and help protect against falls! You do want to stay away from electric blankets and personal heaters as these items can be unsafe and/or violate state regulations.
A Group Effort
One thing that I have seen a trend in recently is when families/groups decide they want to
do something for the entire community. Many assisted living communities are relatively small and they become a very tight knit group. So, families, volunteers or church groups will ask what is something they can do for everyone. I say talk to your Administrator. They can talk to the residents and let them decide. The residents may want seasonal plants for the porch, a new set of puzzles, large print books or even a pizza party! I even know of one group that got a Karaoke Machine! I think that is great! If you decide to do a group approach and want to do food or treats, remember that you need to remember there may be diabetics so you may want to go for sugar-free items.
Wrapping It Up
In a season of giving it is always more of a blessing to give than receive. Time can be the most precious and hard to find commodity. But when you can…stop by. Bring the young ones when they are out of school. Join us for an activity. The residents are so appreciative of everything. I have seen it live and in living color. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, stop in and say hello. The gift you will receive in return will be priceless.
November is typically the month where we stop and give thanks. This year in our community we have a Thankful Tree. Thanks to the talent and creativity of my staff members, this beautiful notion has come to life. But the real beauty that you will find are the comments that are attached to the branches of this tree. Residents and staff have given thanks for everything from health and happiness to family and friendship. So, as our hearts and minds turn to the holiday season, here are some suggestions to help you prepare for those times we treasure the most. Thinking ahead will make you thankful you did when it comes to sharing the holidays with your loved one that lives in an assisted living.
Stick to the Schedule
I have had families tell me time and time again that they were amazed that their parent was ready to go back home (to their ALF community) almost immediately after Thanksgiving or Christmas lunch or supper was over. While they were surprised, in many ways it was comforting for them. They realize that their loved one had made their community their home. I am reminded of my own Granddaddy. He was a man of routine. He didn’t vary much from his schedule. That is what I remind the families of our residents. They have the tendency in some cases to become creatures of habit. Trust me…they like a decent dose of predictability. Don’t believe me? Try canceling bingo! But just try and be as flexible as possible with their expectations. Plan ahead when it comes to medications and other necessities. If you are prepared in advance it will be more Norman Rockwell and less National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.
Don’t forget to Include Me!
Does Mom have a recipe for everyone’s favorite Caramel Cake? Does Grandpa have a story that he loves to tell? If you have ever had to suffer the loss of a loved one, you know that things like this will one day become a treasured memory. If Mom is able, include her in some of the preparation process for the meal. Or even just ask her advice. Everyone likes to feel included. Maybe you have heard Grandpa Pete’s story about his days in the war a hundred times. Maybe this year is the time to write it down. In our culture, we get so caught up in being in a hurry. Heaven knows we all can be glued to electronics. Take time to turn off and tune in to loved ones. Your conversations will be priceless to you one day.
While the holidays can be a time for sadness for some, it is best to keep conversation light. But many forget that while seniors may be older, they still like to engage. We all love looking at pictures on our social media accounts, right? Share with your elderly loved one the photos from the high school playoffs or the trip to the pumpkin patch. The pictures can be made large enough for their viewing on most devices. You may even want to let everyone in your family go around the room and tell what they are thankful for. You may find as we did with our Thankful Tree that what you hear will bless you more than you ever imagined.
Great Oaks Management communities will observe holiday meals during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. If you would like to join your loved one for a meal, call and make your reservation today.