Five Golden Ways To Keep Your Holidays From Being Grinched

Five Golden Ways To Keep Your Holidays From Being Grinched


Faster than Santa’s Sleigh, the holidays are upon us in all their glory. Along with tidings of good will and merry-making, this time of year can also bring sadness to seniors who are no longer able to celebrate as they did in their youth.

While Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa bring togetherness and happiness to many, we shouldn’t forget that they can also be a time of stress, confusion and loneliness for older adults, especial those beginning to experience age-related ailments and memory loss. That’s why we at Sunshine Retirement Living communities take extra care to make sure all our residents in our assisted living, memory care, and personal care communities are well equipped to deal with sometimes unsettling events of the holidays and prepared to experience tidings of comfort and joy instead.

For Jennifer Gross, Executive Director at The Haven at North Hills, this is the time of year that she is reminded that no two residents are alike and there no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. She says:

“We like to remind our staff and families that the holidays may be a joyous celebration for some and distressing or sad for others. Some have visitors and some are alone. Let’s be respectful and learn about our residents so we can provide opportunities for them to celebrate the holidays according to their own preference.”

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at five specific challenges that seniors face at this time of year and how to address them.

  1. Food for thought on the big feasts.

    Starting with Thanksgiving, a major part of the holidays at this time of year is the opportunity to break bread with family and friends, not to mention carving turkeys, hams and lots of sugary, high-calorie desserts. It can be quite challenging for seniors who are on special diets or simply don’t indulge in food as much as they used to. Here are some ways to keep palates and stomachs happy:

    • Just because a retirement community or family has whipped up all kinds of delicious meats, side dishes and desserts doesn’t mean seniors should dive into all of them. A good rule of thumb for healthy portion control – for seniors and non-seniors alike – is to have guests choose three or four items and then step away from the table, that way they are not tempted to eat more than they would normally. Better yet, use a smaller plate to reduce the amount of food that can be piled on a plate.
    • Before filling up plates with carbs and fats, place out fruit and veggie trays first to reduce hunger for more fattening foods.
    • Avoid cooking with salty foods that can cause high blood pressure and water retention.
    • If your senior loved one has a sweet tooth and doesn’t want to pass up the opportunity to enjoy the yummy chocolates, cakes and pies, have them make a conscious effort to leave room for dessert. You can also opt for low-sugar or sugar alternative desserts.

    As for the chefs at Sunshine Retirement communities, many keep a watchful eye out for our residents with the philosophy shared by Santos Barrientos, Executive Director at The Gardens at Brook Ridge:

    “Our chefs don’t cook much with salt and we always offer sugar-free desserts for those with diabetic diets. We’re also happy to provide softened or chopped servings and pureed meals per doctor’s orders.”

  2. One is the loneliest number.

    It’s no secret that instances of depression rise across all generations and across the globe during the holidays, especially among the elderly.

    “Some folks absolutely love and have no trouble coping with all the added activity; others can become withdrawn, fearful and want to be isolated,” says Beverly White of Heritage Point in Mishawaka, Indiana.

    On top of that, many seniors have no family nearby often feel more alone during the holidays when their closest friends are off visiting relatives.

    “All staff members need to be extra full of love, hugs and compassion,” adds White. “We need to be diligent in paying close attention to body language, unusual tearfulness, extra fidgeting and anxiousness so that we are able to keep our residents calm.”

    Of course, Sunshine Life Enrichment Directors make a point of including residents who are not away with family in all their community holiday activities. But there’s more to it than that, as Gross from The Haven, points out:

    “I remind the staff to pay attention to the person sitting alone in their room or who does not get visitors. Take time to stop with a smiling face or provide them with a holiday card.”

    Together, we do our best to make the holidays a joyous and positive experience for every resident.

  3. Can a big happy family be too much of a good thing?

    If your extended family doesn’t get together all that often, Grandma or Grandpa may not realize how much the kids have grown and become more rambunctious. Likewise, the younger generations may not be prepared to see Grandma or Grandpa exhibit accelerated signs of aging, fragility and frailty, and loss of memory. And an intense get-together can easily trigger some unexpected reactions or behaviors related to those issues.

    For most seniors, we suggest having the grandkids come visit the retirement community for a meal or a Christmas activity. This will allow everyone to get reacquainted and caught up in the grandparent’s most familiar and comfortable environment.

    “In those cases,” says Barrientos from The Gardens, “notify them of the importance of being mindful of other residents in the community and making sure the kids are well behaved while visiting loved ones.”

    If you choose to take older loved ones away from the retirement community for a visit, plan an outing that everyone can enjoy – maybe a holiday concert, a play or a sleigh ride. Or arrange an activity at home that keeps all generations engaged, such as decorating the tree, baking cookies, building a gingerbread house, or singing Christmas carols.

  4. Planes, trains and automobiles – keeping holiday travel manageable.

    For families arranging to have older loved ones come visit during the holidays, Michelle Ledford, Executive Director at Windsor Heights in Beachwood, Ohio offers several excellent precautionary suggestions.

    • Before anything else, check with the doctor to make sure travel is okay for the older adult. If they are in an assisted living community, make sure the doctor has issued an order for a Leave of Absence.
    • Make a list of all medications and doctors to keep with you and make sure all prescriptions are filled prior to leaving for your visit.
    • Check with the community’s health services director to get the latest updates on resident’s health concerns, such as incontinence issues, changes in medications and schedules, any unusual behaviors that may arise while outside of the community.
    • Be patient and allow extra time while traveling as our older adults take a bit longer to get from here to there.
    • Pack appropriate snacks and check ahead for places to stop and eat a well-rounded meal.
    • If traveling by airplane, be certain to call ahead for help with long walks and wait times in security lines. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and if necessary, request a wheelchair.
    • If staying in a hotel make sure there is handicap access or a walk-in shower for safety. Be aware of noise conditions that can cause anxiety and nervousness.
    • Remember, seniors tend to get colder much easier. Look ahead at weather conditions and pack appropriate clothing, outerwear and footwear.
  5. Above all, enjoy your time together.

    After you have ensured that your older loved ones are safe and happy, relax and focus on making the most of the holidays and your time together. Encourage group activities to get your family moving. Dance to some favorite holiday tunes or take an evening stroll through the neighborhood to see the lights. By all means be merry, but be mindful that alcohol may dangerously interact with medications.

    Also, many of our fondest memories from childhood revolve around holidays past. Encourage Grandma and Grandpa to wax nostalgic and reminisce about the holidays. Even seniors with advanced memory loss retain long-term memories and may be able to speak vividly about a Christmas more than 50 years ago.

    “Relaxing reminiscence is a goal that will set you up for success,” says Jennifer Gross. “Pull out photo albums, watch familiar holiday movies, play familiar holiday music, bring out the old favorite decorations, and rekindle family traditions that bring the past to life.”

    It may be a recipe for coaxing a few tears for all seated around the table. But much like the Grinch who couldn’t steal Christmas, it will help everyone discover the true meaning of the holidays that never fades away.

This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, November, 2018. Some content was provided by www.allaboutseniorsinc.net and www.aplaceformom.com

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