November is a month full of excitement!
With Halloween signaling the end of autumn's first half, November kicks things into high gear not even two weeks later: Veterans Day leaves only a few weeks before Thanksgiving and the polarizing Black Friday that follows. Three major days in November are only the tip of the iceberg though, as the following months will continue to inundate people across the country with holidays galore. Regardless of how you feel about the holiday season, you’re likely going to take part in one way or another, and if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it can be helpful to remember what we’re celebrating in the first place. For November, the major themes of celebration are tied to feelings of remembrance and being thankful. Of course, stress is going to join in the festivities too, especially if you’re playing the role of host for your family, so with that stress in mind, we here at Noble Companion wanted to highlight a topic that could easily be overlooked in the hubbub of the holidays – making the holidays happy for seniors. While the kids are easy to please, and same-age relatives might have their own expectations, the seniors in our lives are due some special consideration. With everybody aging differently, we’re going to touch on some common challenges faced by families with aging loved ones and offer input on how to proceed in a way that helps remind our seniors that we are thankful for them!
Different mobility – Most people experience a change in their motor abilities as they grow older, and taking these changes into account can help make the holidays more senior friendly while not detracting from anybody else's festivities. For example, if your loved one has less/different mobility than they did in years prior, you can make a huge difference by simply offering to walk their food and beverages over to them; this way, they can still take the initiative if they’d like, and they don’t have to feel uncomfortable asking for help with something that they’ve never needed help with in years past. Games like cards, checkers, and chess make easy the task of entertaining while the food is cooking, and TV staples like the Macy's day parade or football are activities that everyone can enjoy regardless of mobility. Greeting family members at their car so that you can walk alongside them as they arrive at your house is another kind gesture that not only reinforces safety, but also shows them that you’re eager to see them! If your family has a tradition of taking a walk together on Thanksgiving, consider changing things up and going for a drive to see the holiday lights instead. Keeping mobility differences in mind during the holiday season is easy to do, and though it might not seem like much, it can make a major difference in how your loved one experiences the holidays.
Vision and Hearing – Another common change that occurs during the aging process is vision and hearing loss. While there are numerous ways to remedy these changes, their effectiveness can wane over time, so being cognizant of your loved one's current hearing/vision situation can help make the holidays easier for everyone in attendance. Starting with vision loss, an easy first step can be discussing behaviors with your kids and other family members before the holidays arrive. Letting the group know that “hey, grandma is having more trouble seeing/hearing lately, so make sure to speak up or bring things close to her to show her,” can help lay the groundwork for the big day. Additional decorations that “pop” are good to consider for people dealing with vision impairment so long as they don’t get in the way of walking paths in the house, and the hearing impaired will be thankful if you take a few seconds to turn the closed captioning on BEFORE they arrive so they don’t have to worry about fumbling with your remote control. If you really want to plan for everything, sit the quieter family members close to those who are having trouble hearing, this way nobody will have to speak unnaturally at dinner. Even though vision and hearing loss may not directly affect cognition, they can still be frustrating for those experiencing them, so little accommodations are likely to go a long way towards everyone’s holiday enjoyment; even if it might not seem like much at first.
Memory Impairment – Different from mobility concerns and vision/hearing loss, memory impairments like Alzheimer’s and other dementias are a reality for millions of Americans across the country. In fact, recent studies suggest that 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 are living with a form of dementia, and that ratio only becomes more pronounced as you age. With so many people having a family member living with memory impairment, it is extremely important to educate yourself about the various conditions and learn ways to adapt in situations like the holidays. A good way of approaching the conversation about a family member with memory impairment is to understand where your loved one is on the scale of progression.
- Early Diagnosis: If your loved one has only recently been diagnosed with a form of dementia or memory impairment, they may not have any noticeable symptoms outside of forgetfulness. In this case, there are no real adjustments that would need to be made before hosting your family holiday get together, just be mindful and understanding in case they experience any difficulty with memories, names, or other topics.
- Middle Stage: The middle stage of progression in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is the stage when the disease becomes more easily noticeable. When planning for the family holidays, it would be wise to get in touch with your loved one's primary person, be that a caregiver, family member, loved one, or guardian; and discuss what to expect. Ask that person what behaviors they see on a typical day, what types of activities they still enjoy, what types of things trigger them to become upset, and any other important behavioral concerns you might want to know. With this information in hand, reach out to the other adults who are set to attend the holidays and give them an overview. Speak with younger family members and kids one-on-one and explain to them what they can expect too, as well as how to handle situations that might confuse them like their grandparents forgetting their name or their age, getting easily upset, or any other behaviors that the young one might not expect or understand. With everybody on the same page beforehand, the holidays can continue to be a time of happiness and gratitude for everyone involved, especially the person who is living with Alzheimer’s, memory impairment, or another form of dementia.
- Late Stage: The late stage of Alzheimer’s and other dementias comes with the biggest changes. In this stage, your loved one may not be able to attend family holidays in person. Should your loved one be in this stage of the diseases, it would be wise to look into bringing the party to them. If their disease requires them to live in a memory care community, get in touch with the staff there and see what their procedures are on visitation during the holidays. In the case where your family is unable to visit them in person, setting up a video call with the staff is best scheduled early on. If your loved one is in a situation where they receive round the clock home care, check with their caregiver about setting up a day to visit with the family and host an alternative celebration with them in their home. If bringing the kiddo’s, let them know what to expect before you arrive, and set ground rules for behaviors right out the gate. If you want to bring a gift, choose something safe and comforting like winter clothing, medical bracelets, photos, or their favorite music. Remember that although it may not seem like it at first, people in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementias still communicate in their own way, and they still appreciate being involved in family activities and holidays. It can be difficult for everybody involved to overcome the emotions and changes associated with Alzheimer's and other dementias, but setting a precedent and working towards accommodating everyone this holiday season is a loving gesture that is not lost on anybody.
The holidays are a magical time of year where we have the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones from all over. While stress comes with the territory, planning can help alleviate a portion of that stress. As family members age and encounter different changes in their abilities, simply communicating can produce results that ensure everyone has a happy holiday. No matter what your family is dealing with, remember to be thankful this November for each and every family member that is involved in your celebrations, and keep in mind that regardless of their abilities, they still love and appreciate you more than you know. Happy holiday season from all of us here at Noble Companion!