The holiday season is a time of happiness and excitement. We start to feel it – as early as November – as homes are decorated with lights, stores are overrun with shoppers and radio stations are playing festive music. Of course, the holidays can also bring on feelings of sadness, nostalgia and loneliness for some. But I’m a big believer in not letting those feelings get the best of us – no matter what the circumstances. There are so many ways to find enjoyment in the season and bring yourself some cheer. Consider these ideas to ward off holiday loneliness:
- Build social connections by joining a group or activity at a local senior center, community center or religious institution. Look for things like Wii tournaments, craft groups, trips to museums, and more. If you’ve recently lost someone close, find out if there is a support or bereavement group for people in the same boat (widows/widowers, etc.). This can be a tremendous comfort, especially at this time of year.
- Take a class at a local university or recreation center – many offer adult education courses in the arts, music, language, cooking and more. Keeping your mind sharp and using your creative skills truly does wonders.
- Volunteering is one of the best ways you can keep feeling young, vibrant and connected to others during the holidays. With my own children spread out across the country, I spent last Thanksgiving morning peeling potatoes for a local soup kitchen in NYC. It was an incredibly rewarding and satisfying experience.
- Honor the name of a loved one. Even if you’re not feeling social, you can do something that holds special meaning for a loved one. This can be as simple as planting a tree in their name, sponsoring a brick at Ellis Island or making a contribution of your time or money to their favorite charity.
What if you’re feeling fine, but you’re caring for an older loved one who may not be looking forward to the holidays? There are also many ways to help the elderly combat loneliness and participate in the joy of the season.
While younger people are often busy running around getting gifts, making food and putting up the decorations for the holidays, elder loved ones may be lamenting past occasions when they were at a happier place in their lives. Others might not even be aware that the holidays are here. But there are a few things you can do to make your loved ones feel like they’re a vital part of the holidays.
- Communicate early and often. Especially if you’re not going to be spending the holidays with an older relative, the sound of your voice over the phone can bring great comfort. Call them while you’re trimming the tree, hanging the lights or preparing to sit down and eat so they feel included in your activities. Ask them about their plans as well. Make sure you put any grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the phone, so they can hear their voices too.
- Send/share family photos. Old family photos can bring back fond memories and remind your loved ones of the important role they still play in your family. Create a scrapbook or photo album that you can mail or – even better – look through together in person. Include names and dates to help trigger their memory.
- Include them in the festivities. If your loved one will be with you for the holidays, give them an active role. Involve them in things like wrapping the presents, chopping the nuts or beating the eggs. You could also make your elder the guest of honor who lights the candles or recites a special prayer or story if that occurs in your family. Many elderly also like to sing holiday songs – it’s part of their long-term memory and can help them recall good times. Whatever your plan, it has to be something that makes your elder feel present and in the middle of things in a genuine way.
Wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season!
Love Dr. Marion’s advice? Take it with you with her FREE elder care apps for the iPhone! If you’re caring for an older loved one, these useful tools will help you be prepared for any situation. Download them here today.
Have you noticed that our generation is still at the top of its game in the entertainment world? Dr. Marion recently weighed in on the success of TV’s older actors for ABC News.
Dr. Marion Somers, Ph.D., is an elder care expert and the author of Elder Care Made Easier as well as the caregiving iPhone apps Elder 411 and Elder 911.
Dr. MARION SOMERS