Engaging with aging seniors to create holiday magic

Orchestrating holiday gatherings that are merry and bright takes some additional planning when inviting elder family members or friends who are experiencing any of the issues associated with aging – depression, cognitive impairments, fatigue, and mobility concerns to name a few.

Sensitivity and a little planning can go a long way in helping to connect and create lasting memories.  Meet your family and friends at their level and do not force your personal expectations in creating a perfect holiday.

To make sure proposed holiday gatherings are in line with what your loved one wants, consider these tips:

Start by engaging your family member in planning. Help them feel needed and respected by being part of the planning process in choosing special meals, decorating with cherished mementos, scheduling activities, and so forth. Even if they cannot actively participate, being among the chatter and laughter may be the best way to engage.

Remember their favorite foods.  Nothing feels more special than having favorite foods included in the menu.  Sitting around a table and enjoying food can be a magic moment to draw out memories.

Revive traditions.  Ask your family member if they remember any special traditions and then make them happen.  Then, follow their lead in enjoying the traditions.

Stroll down memory lane.  Sharing some quiet time to look at photos or share memories can bring up happy memories sand maybe some tears.  But that’s ok too because part of grieving is remembering.   Use that time to ask questions, particularly those that make a person think or feel, versus remember.  This is particularly good for older adults with memory challenges. 

But no quizzes.  Let the memories flow but do not quiz seniors in trying to remember everything. This can cause a lot of anger and sadness in your loved one, especially if other members of the family are around. Instead, use music, smells, or touch to create a more relaxed and positive environment.

Most of all, do not force anything. Follow the pace of your guest and do not force anything. If they appear more irritable, depressed, or fatigued, be patient and meet them where they are and do not insist on directing plans.

Celebrating the holidays with a loved one can be emotional and even stressful on a different level. Do not let health or memory challenges take away from your time together – be in the moment and enjoy.