Making the Holidays More Joyful for Older Adults

Dec 1, 2020 / Geriatrics

By Danielle Barry, PhD
Psychologist, Division of Behavioral Health

The holidays are often a stressful time for many people, but the Covid-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult for some – especially for older Americans.

For many older people, favorite holiday events and traditions will have to be canceled or reduced in scale. The result is often an increase in sadness and loneliness in a year that has already been filled with disappointment.

Unfortunately, the same actions and behaviors that help protect us from Covid-19 can often cause feelings of loneliness and isolation. This can result in serious health issues for people 60 and older and those with severe chronic health conditions. Loneliness and isolation are linked to a number of poor mental and physical health outcomes. Even in a normal year, older adults are already at increased risk because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and sight or hearing loss.

That’s why this holiday season, it’s particularly important to check on older adults who may be alone. Here’s some tips that can help:

  • Many older adults are skilled users of technology, but some find technology intimidating or just prefer more traditional ways of communicating. Offer gentle encouragement about using technology. Try to help older adults become familiar with technology that can help ease their sense of isolation. Consider senior-friendly products with simplified phone and tablet options utilizing large text and buttons, if appropriate.
  • Help someone take a virtual adventure from the safety of home. Encourage older adults with access to smart devices to take advantage of free online virtual tours of destinations such as Yellowstone National Park, the Guggenheim Museum in NY, the Louvre in Paris and other fascinating locations.
  • If your loved one has limited abilities, lives in a senior care facility, or has an in-home care provider, inquire if caregivers can assist in helping the loved one stay in touch.
  • Remember that a simple phone call still works wonders. Just hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the line can increase feelings of connectedness and brighten anyone’s mood. Scheduling regular calls is always a good idea.
  • While you are talking with your loved ones, ask about their health and wellness and whether they are taking opportunities to exercise or at least keep their body moving, getting quality sleep, eating well, and getting their recommended health screenings.
  • A handwritten note or thoughtful gift can be a delightful surprise for an isolated older adult and can provide a tangible reminder of your affection and interest. Books, magazine subscriptions, fruit or flowers, and self-care products may be particularly welcome for older adults trying to minimize trips to the store due to health conditions.

If you feel an older person in your life needs help, don’t be afraid to talk to a family member or other caregiver so they can receive proper assistance. Information and support are also available at the resources listed below:

Elder Services of Worcester Areahttps://eswa.org/ or (508) 756-1545. An organization that offers a number of programs and information for the elderly.

Disaster Distress Helpline – (800)-985-5990. This 24/7 national hotline is dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress, including Covid-19.

Nursing Home Family Resource Line – (617) 660-5399. A dedicated phone line to connect family members and loved ones residing in nursing homes, rest homes, and assisted living residences with the information and resources they need.

www.SeniorConnection.org – a website for older adults and caregivers. Includes a searchable database of agencies and programs, links to useful Internet resources, community news, and a calendar of events.

Eldercare Locator – (800) 677-1116 or www.eldercare.acl.gov. The Eldercare Locator connects older adults and their caregivers with information about services throughout the United States. The service links those who need assistance with state and local area agencies on aging and community-based organizations.

Making the Holidays More Joyful for Older Adults

About Danielle Barry, PhD

Dr. Danielle Barry has always been a very curious person, especially about human behavior. She says that becoming a psychologist allowed her to channel that curiosity into helping others. “As a psychologist, it’s my job to ask people lots of questions and learn what motivates them – what they care about, and the things that challenge them or cause them pain,” she explains. “Then I can use that information to help people develop...

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