How to Include an Aging Family Member in Holiday Celebrations


The holidays are meant to be a joyous time for families to gather and celebrate. As we head into this holiday season, these usually happy occasions can be challenging for families with aging parents and loved ones.

Older adults with mobility issues, or conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's can start to feel isolated during the holiday season when everyone is getting together for celebrations and family visits. The holidays can disrupt familiar routines, or may require difficult travel, which can sometimes make an aging individual feel like a burden.

It is important to be able to recognize holiday depression in your aging loved one, and make sure that they feel included in some capacity during this season of celebration. Here are some key tips to help you and your family make the holidays joyous for everyone:

  • Create new traditions: If your family traditions involved travel or other things that would be too strenuous for your aging loved one, it might be a good idea to discuss with your family the possibility of creating new traditions. Baking, easy decorating activities, and having friends and neighbors drop in for small gatherings can be simple and effective ways to bring back the holiday spirit to your aging loved one. These types of festivities are also great ways to involve grandchildren.
  • Remember together: Many times, it isn't the holiday itself that causes feelings of depression, but rather that the holidays may bring memories of earlier or happier times. If this seems to be the case, activities such as watching home movies together or looking through old pictures as a group can be a nice way to remember those times as a family to help alleviate feelings of loneliness in an aging loved one.
  • Plan ahead: If your loved one lives far away, or if an in-person visit truly doesn't seem possible this year, make sure you plan ahead to ensure that your loved one will not be spending the holidays alone. If they live in an assisted living community, check in with employees to see if they will be sponsoring any holiday activities. If your loved one is living on his or her own, try to see if one of their neighbors might be able to visit them. This might also be the time to look into home care, even temporarily. If it seems as though your aging loved one will be alone this season, look for agencies like Partners in Care, where home health aides are specially trained above state standards to meet all of your aging loved one's needs and are available for short visits or extended stays, if necessary. Certain home care agencies can also provide home health aides to safely escort an aging adult with mobility issues to a family gathering during the holidays. Look for a home health aide that is a good fit for your loved one, whether they require specific medical attention, or more of a companion to create holiday crafts with and to talk through any feelings of loneliness.

Making your loved ones feel included in holiday activities can come in a variety of forms. Whether you are able to visit with your whole family, only drop in for a short time, or need to bring in a home care agency to ensure they are not spending the holidays alone, the most important thing is for them to know that you are thinking of them this holiday season.

Renata Gelman, RN, B.S.N., is assistant director of clinical services at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). In this role, she coordinates patient care and manages a multi-disciplinary team of field nursing and home health care professionals in the clinical area of a VNSNY’s private care division.

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Music is an excellent way to celebrate holidays. My mother, who has dementia, sings along with favorite Christmas carols...loves it!
We feel so lucky to have lived near both sets of parents for almost 30 years. Our Xmas has always been celebrated with both sets (one house on Eve, the other on the Day). By now we are providing all the food and cleanup. But mom still enjoys setting the table and helps plan the menu. Sharing a meal together in leisurely fashion is one of the best gifts you can give any senior, year-round. If they were to move to AL we would truly miss the holidays at their homes, but would bring photos with us, or bring them to our home if possible. If someone has dementia then it might not even matter if celebrated "on" the 24/25, go and be with your parents! They won't be here forever.
Yes! Yes! Yes! As a 91-year old, I endorse this. Even though I live in a residence, visits by loved ones are so important as the hours can be very long when alone. Thank you for this.