By Dr. Nancy Swayze
Chief of Skilled Nursing Facilities
The holiday season can bring us joy, but for many people – especially seniors – it can be a very difficult time of year. For many seniors, the holidays serve as a reminder of the loved ones they have lost or of activities they can no longer do, which can lead them to feel a sense of emptiness and sadness.
Unfortunately, loneliness can have a profound impact on people’s mental and physical health. A 2010 Survey on Loneliness conducted by the AARP indicated that over half of people who had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or another mood disorder reported feeling lonely. Of respondents who reported being in poor health, over 50% were lonely compared to only 25% of those who reported being in excellent health. It is also known that people who are lonely are more prone to a greater risk of cognitive decline.
That’s why during the holidays it’s more important than ever to be supportive of seniors and help them avoid isolation (especially as we all continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic). Below are five tips on how to help the seniors in your life enjoy the holidays more:
- Encourage Communication & Visits
Now is the time to reach out to an older adult in your life and make plans for a holiday visit, or if that is not possible, schedule a phone or video call. Encourage other family members to do the same. Many seniors get especially lonely on the day of a holiday and you don’t want them to feel forgotten. Whether engaging with an aunt, uncle, parent, grandparent or just a family friend, communication around the holidays can make a big difference in a senior’s mental well-being.
- Plan Activities for Those in Long-term Care
Bringing a loved one back home for a holiday (even if only for a few hours) is always a great idea. Seeing family members and enjoying a meal together can make a big difference in their enjoyment of the holiday. Just be sure to make arrangements with the long-term care facility beforehand. If your loved one is unable to leave the facility, talk to the activities director to see what they have planned around the holidays. There might be a special meal, a musical event, or a tree lighting at the facility you could attend with your loved one. If not, planning a visit on the day of the holiday will also mean a lot for your loved one.
Important: The current wave of COVID-19 continues to escalate, including a highly transmissible new variant. Please encourage all who intend to be indoors and unmasked around nursing home/assisted living residents be fully vaccinated including a booster shot. There has been increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for those who did not receive a booster. Being unmasked inside significantly increases the risk of transmission to all. This makes sharing an intergenerational holiday meal more difficult. It’s important to keep long-term care facilities open for family visits during the holidays and any outbreak in residents would require an isolation and testing period. You can learn more about celebrating the holidays safely at this CDC web page.
- Do Some Decorating
Whether your loved one lives by themselves, with you, or at a long-term care facility, decorating their room for the holiday can really enhance their mood. Although there may not be room for a Christmas tree, hanging some stockings, arranging a display of holiday cards, or draping garland can go a long way toward brightening your loved one’s mood.
- Create a video presentation
Today’s technology makes it easy to share old photographs and family movies with loved ones. Try creating a video or slideshow of past holiday memories that you can show on a device such as an iPad, TV or computer. Chances are, you’ll have as much fun creating it as they will viewing it.
- Make Use of The Friendship Line
For those times when you are unable to visit a senior in your life and there are no planned activities, encourage your loved one to call The Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0016. Sponsored by Mental Health America (MHA), this free phone line is available to those aged 60+ and offers a friendly ear and chance for conversation and emotional support. There is also an online support community for those who are Internet-savvy. Best of all, it can be used any time of year.
About Nancy Swayze, MD – Chief of Skilled Nursing Facilities
Geriatricians are doctors who specialize in the medical care of patients over the age of 65. At Reliant Medical Group, our geriatricians work inside nursing homes (also known as skilled nursing facilities) helping to provide care for our older patients. Geriatricians are experts at dealing with arthritis, osteoporosis, mobility issues, memory loss and other problems that can affect the elderly. They can also help seniors deal with the...View profile View posts by this doctor