Haims: Helping aging loved ones during the holidays (column)
As the holidays are just around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to provide some tips and suggestions about assisting families and elders with ways of making the holidays a bit easier.
Perhaps more than any other occasion, the holiday season is steeped in family tradition. But when family members have declining health, maintaining their involvement in those traditions can become challenging.
Here are some suggestions on making sure our elder family and loved ones are included in the holiday:
Evaluate what’s reasonable
No one wants to admit they may not be able to make dinner for 25 anymore, or host everyone for brunch. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate, ask your loved ones.
What matters most?
Something most families never do is ask if they really want to continue holiday traditions, or if they’re holding on to them from habit. Take a moment to evaluate which elements of the holiday truly hold meaning for your family, and which are just “the way we’ve always done things.” You may learn that what matters is different from what you expect, and it may open up new ways to celebrate that are easier and more meaningful.
Small changes make big difference
If hosting the holiday is important to a family member that may be experiencing difficulties, perhaps the family can assist by taking care of preparing the table or even bring the meal over. Or consider catering. You can use the family serving dishes and favorite china but avoid the preparation and cooking time.
Your loved one might make one favorite dish, but the bulk of the work could be handled by others. Instead of everyone staying at the family home, some relatives might stay with extended family to help ease the load of entertaining.
Pacing and timing of events can make a world of difference for older relatives. If someone is in poor health, perhaps changing the time of a family event to earlier in the day would allow them to participate more fully. Marathon family events could be too much to manage.
Make Meaningful changes
Look for opportunities to make things easier in a meaningful way.
Managing tasks like shopping and decorating can be a challenge for older relatives, but there are ways to make them easier and still preserve dignity and meaning. Grandchildren can be enlisted to drive their grandparents to shop, giving them a chance for some time together. A younger cousin can help with the decorations, or what the secret family recipe really involves. Look for ways to provide assistance in accomplishing tasks that also allow older relatives to pass on beloved tradition.
Other Helpful Tips
If your loved one(s) have dementia or Alzheimer’s, then the holidays can pose some special challenges. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Prepare your loved one with photos and conversations about the visiting relatives. Short-term memory is often absent in people with dementia, but showing them photos of the relative and talking about them often helps provide context.
Try to keep to routine as much as possible. Lack of sleep and dramatic changes in mealtimes can be disturbing to people with dementia.
Try to have more visits with fewer people. Instead of all family members over at once, perhaps groups of three or four can come and visit. A smaller group can be less overwhelming.
Share memories often. Loved ones may not remember from morning until night, but they may recall the past very clearly. Ask about holiday memories, share songs and photos and most of all, listen.
What really matters is that everyone gets to enjoy the holidays and their relationships. This is the time to be a daughter, son, grandchild or cousin. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to make that happen.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.