Presence, not presents, improve a senior’s holiday season

It’s very human to feel that the holidays should be happy times with generations of traditions coming to the forefront. After all, we say we celebrate holidays. Doesn’t that mean with happiness?

The reality, however, is that many people feel isolated and lonely during the sometimes forced “season of joy and good will.”

According to the Administration on Aging, one out of every eight Americans is now over the age of 65, and 28 percent of them live alone.

Imagine waking up alone on Christmas morning with nothing to look forward to that’s different than any other day. You’ll have breakfast as usual; lunch and dinner … perhaps watch some TV. The absence of the sounds and smells from Christmas’s past are but memories now.

Seniors can have an especially hard time with the holiday season. While aging and maturity may bring the wisdom of years for many people, there will be inevitable losses even for the healthiest of individuals. If a senior has memory loss, has experienced a recent illness or death of a loved one, or has experienced a move to a senior care community the holidays may bring depression and anxiety. They may feel abandoned and become isolated.

Yes, you are busy and stressed yourself! However by concentrating on what really matters … people … you can make the difference and help your loved one experience an enjoyable holiday season rather than one with depression and/or confusion.

If you live nearby and your loved one is mobile, plan a holiday dinner at your home and include your loved one in the planning.

Prepare your guests. Make sure everyone coming to visit understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can and can’t do. Ask for help in preparing and cleaning up.

Keep everyone “in the know” about your loved one’s situation. For instance, if your loved one suffers from memory loss you might want to call or email guests in advance that “Harold sometimes has problems remembering and he may repeat himself or ask you the same question again and again … please be understanding.”

Be sure to involve your loved one in helping prepare for the holiday. Ask him/her to help you by handing you decorations to put on the tree or help wrap packages or set the table.

Focus on sharing past memories and holiday traditions. Your loved one may find comfort in looking through old photos or singing holiday songs.

Tell funny “remember when” stories from the past. Bring back the story about: “Remember when Sampson the dog knocked over the Christmas

tree just after we decorated it?” or “Remember when Aunt Cindy baked the green bean casserole with plastic wrap on it?”

If your loved one is in a senior care community, plan a visit there in advance. Bring family along.

Remember, for most seniors, the magic of Christmas has nothing to do with presents, but with presence. Precious time spent this year with your loved one will create memories for the future that will last long after your loved one passes away.

Traditions may need to change as we age but you can create new traditions this holiday season. Find time to spend with your loved one and your family. You’ll be glad you did!

Sources: Agingcare.com and the Administration on Aging. Marsha Douglas Baker is community liaison director for adult care services, which includes The Margaret T. Morris Center (Assisted living community solely dedicated to memory loss) and The Susan J. Rheem Adult Day Centers in Prescott and Prescott Valley.