Transforming Traditions

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.”

gran and daughter

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Grateful Gatherings

As we prepare to give thanks and gather around the table…I remember.  I remember that it was just last Thanksgiving that we experienced a “first” in our community. It was the first time that all 16 of our residents were out with family at the EXACT same time.  It was a strange feeling for the folks that were working that day.  I remember them calling to tell me about it.  Oh, there is always plenty to be done and the staff was happy for the residents to be spending quality time with family and loved ones.  It was just a new first for our community.  What about you?  Is this the first year that you will be planning Thanksgiving after having moved a loved one into an assisted living? Are you concerned with all the preparation and worried about the visit?  Here are a few tips to help you stress less and enjoy Thanksgiving with your elderly loved ones.

Schedules and Timing

As much as you don’t want to plan out every little detail, you do want to give it some thought. Remember that if they are residing in an assisted living they may now be accustomed to a more structured routine.  You will want to check with the staff regarding medications and proper protocol.  You want to be sure to keep everything on track.

Food and Options

Our residents live very active and independent lifestyles.  They enjoy making their own choices and directing their care.  But it is important to consider their dietary needs.  Be mindful of food options.  Remember if Mom doesn’t need the extra salt or Dad needs alternative dessert options.

Time Away

One of the most common comments I hear from families is that they are shocked when not long after eating ….the elderly loved one is ready to go back to their community (new home).  Now naturally this makes an administrator very happy that a resident has come to feel comfortable in their community.  But don’t let it make you feel down.  Remember they have gotten on their own time schedule.  They are enjoying your company, but like many people after a gathering may need some rest.

As with all time together…just enjoy.  Make it special but don’t put too much pressure on your family member or yourself (for that matter) to meet unrealistic expectations.  Incorporate them into the conversation.  Maybe call ahead of time and get their special recipe for a favorite dish.  Spend time talking, relating and making treasured memories.  Savor these moments together and you ALL will come away from the gathering feeling grateful.

elderly african american man enjoying coffee with his granddaughter