Every one faces pitfalls during the holidays, but getting off track can set older adults back in their recovery from an illness or at risk for new health problems. Too much of a good thing? Not so good according to senior care experts. Check out these warnings from Home Instead Senior Care for Successful Aging Social Worker Diane K. Hendricks, CMSW, LMHP and Wellness manager Jeannie Hannan, Pd.D.
Too much activity. Some conditions of aging, such as dementia, can cause agitation in older adults. Tune into the amount of activity that surrounds a senior during the holidays and adapt as necessary. Many activities can still be enjoyed when modified for seniors’ abilities. These modifications could be due to many aging conditions such as hearing or vision impairments, dementia, arthritis, limited ambulation etc.
Too many unrealistic expectations. Families often function best when they are following traditional roles at the holidays. But that isn’t always realistic. If your senior loved one has suffered a health decline, she may not be up to the family get- together as tradition has always had it. Try to get family members on board to set realistic expectations. This way the joy of the holiday can still be enjoyed and relished by all family members.
Too much noise. Hearing impairment can make it difficult for older aging adults to understand conversations. If you are hosting a holiday party, take grandpa into a quiet room and ask the family to visit him individually so that he can get the most from conversations.
Too much sugar. Many older adults are diabetic or living with restricted food plans. Sugar is a big holiday culprit, so always try to offer healthy alternatives such as plenty of vegetables and sugar-free desserts. We can all benefit from this.
Too many visitors. Senior loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia could react negatively to the presence of too many people. Take care not to turn a positive holiday party into a negative event for your aging loved one with dementia by subjecting them to too many visitors.
Too much stress. Becoming overwhelmed during the holidays isn’t good for anyone, least of all seniors. Respite caregiving from a family member, friend or professional caregiving agency can help a senior to feel more secure. To have someone who is their support, they can enjoy all the season has to offer -while that caregiver can monitor and watch to protect them from the holiday overload, may be the balance they need.
Too many memories. While most seniors enjoy reminiscing and discussing the old days, be careful what memories you share. If there has been a recent death in the family, the emotional wounds may be too fresh. If dementia is a factor, be mindful not to bring up in the presence of your loved one a painful memory you don’t wish to have them relive again. For instance, if she begins to talk about a departed spouse or child-there is no need to remind her “Mom, daddy died many years ago …” This may cause her to relive the pain of his death all over again if it isn’t part of her daily memory bank. If she says something similar to “I can’t wait for your father to come and see all of this!” and your father has already passed, you don’t need to have her relive the pain of losing your father (especially during the holidays) all over again. Just agree with her. You don’t have to be right. You do not need to correct her. Just go with where Mom is in her memory. This is called therapeutic lying and a technique often used in caring for Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. Another example would be Mom is asking for someone who has already passed or who isn’t coming and it would cause her pain and anxiety to know they aren’t coming-its ok to say use this technique with your loved one suffering from dementia (depending where they are in their dementia journey) and say “I’m sure she is on her way”. Focus on the here and now and be present in the moment, if that is where they reside in their memory.
Don’t have an aging loved one in your life? Would you like to make a difference for one? Be a Santa to a Senior is a true community program, getting generous support from Sonoma businesses, nonprofit organizations, retailers, numerous volunteers and members of the community. Home Instead Senior Care in Rohnert Park has collaborated with local resource partners to help with gift collection and distribution.
It’s easy to help out. Go to one of the participating locations listed at Beasantatoasenior.com or look for the Be a Santa to a Senior tree on display at Raley’s Grocery Stores, Oliver’s Market, LT’s Studio or Mercy Wellness in town. Each tree will be decorated with ornaments featuring seniors’ first names and their desired gifts. Holiday shoppers can choose an ornament, buy the requested gift and return it to the store with the ornament attached. There’s no need to worry about wrapping — community volunteers and program partners will wrap and deliver the gifts to local seniors in time for the holidays.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.