We think of the holidays as being “the most wonderful time of the year.” And of course they can be. But some people – often elderly people – dread the arrival of the holidays.
Whatever their reason – the loss of friends or family members, mobility issues, the anxiety of leaving their safe space in the home – they don’t see opportunities for getting out or participating in all the merriment going on. That makes their losses loom larger, their frailties seem greater. Their feelings of being disconnected and less relevant to the world around them increase.
The challenge for caregivers, then, is to find ways to help. Logistically speaking, that won’t be easy: “The most wonderful time of the year” also happens to be the busiest time of the year. Few of us have time to think about one more thing, let alone be extra creative.
And yet our hearts are full during holidays. We don’t want anyone to be sad or depressed – especially someone we spend so much time with.
The secret, then, is to plan ahead– to find simple ways to bring joy and celebration to those who are feeling sad or left out. A garland, a string of lights, immediately transforms a room. So do good smells from the kitchen, like hot chocolate or warm cider. In just a few minutes, cues like these can change the environment from gloomy to cozy.
Maybe there’s a special holiday mug or plate tucked away. Everything – even a plain old cup of coffee or a peanut butter sandwich – tastes special when it’s packaged for the season.
To help your client feel a part of the holidays, you might help them get an activity going. For example, your client might want to send out cards, since many are of the generation where old friends keep up with each other by sending out greetings at this time of year. Or help bake some simple cookies – you can even get pre-made dough and just sprinkle colored sugar on top. Again, these are simple things that can keep your client from feeling side-lined. Even dressing festively makes a difference: Get out your snowflake earrings – and get out theirs. Drape a long ribbon around their neck and tell them how great they look (because they will!).
If your client can get out, take him or her on a walk or a ride to see the decorations and the bustling streets. If they can’t get out, perhaps you can help them have someone in. A cup of tea, a cookie and a visit with an old friend does a lot to raise the spirits.
What you do to make a difference doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. The most important thing is to be compassionate and patient. Listen and truly hear their stories and reminiscences. After all, your thoughtfulness is always the best gift and will be remembered well after this giving time of year.