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5 Holiday Challenges that Senior Parents and Grandparents Face

The year 2020 is one that many families will be thrilled to see in the rearview mirror. But before we ring in a new and improved year in 2021, there are still the holidays to get through. For many families, the holidays are all about tradition — special meals, silly games, and all the small bits and pieces that knit together to form your memories and family lore. Unfortunately, these happy moments also come with holiday challenges for our senior loved ones. Before the holidays come around, it’s best to discuss these challenges and know how you can help your parents and grandparents make the most of the season. 

Scale Back Festivities

Since COVID-19 has forced such drastic changes in how we'll celebrate the holidays this year, it’s a great time to take stock of your old traditions and maybe make some new ones. Have an honest talk with your senior parents and grandparents about the "new normal" and how it's going to look this year — a smaller family gathering, limited shopping, fewer activities. Many seniors find a lot of holiday happenings tiring and welcome a scaled-down season. The upside of a slower pace? More quiet time with your family — start on those family scrapbooks, take a video of your parents telling your kids stories, or try out new recipes for holiday meals. 

Planning Travel

Any overnight trip becomes more difficult as we age. Coordinate with your parents’ or grandparents’ home health aide to ensure that your loved ones are appropriately packed for the trip, with snacks and water if it's a long one. 

  • Have a checkup. Make sure your parents visit their doctor for a quick checkup before they travel, just to make sure they are healthy enough to travel. Also, check if all their medications are up to date, and refill any prescriptions. 

  • Organize medication and have a dosage log. Those plastic pill keepers are essential when a senior is planning a trip. Having all their medication already sorted lessens any stress they may feel about taking it on time and helps you keep track of their schedules. 

  • Someone — a family member or caregiver — should pack for your parents or grandparents and have all their medication and other relevant information (dietary restrictions, for example) in a file folder or downloaded onto a shareable app. 

  • Travel is tiring. If you are driving, plan frequent breaks — one every hour and a half or so — to get out of the car and walk a bit. 

Decorating

Here's a secret: your mother is not sad to scale back her holiday decorating and is just tickled with a faux tabletop tree full of her favorite ornaments. Make decorating an event for the entire family! While you tackle getting ornaments and decorations down and displayed, your parents or grandparents can share stories of Christmas when you were just a kid. Even if your senior loved ones have downsized to an apartment or condo, some holiday decorations are a homey touch and a way to create new family traditions. Just make sure the tree or the menorah are flame-retardant should there be an electrical short in the wiring. 

Buying and Wrapping Gifts

This might be a good year to take over the shopping responsibilities from your parents. If they are internet-savvy, they can shop online; but if they're not, or if they have memory issues, take over. If you have gifts shipped to their home, ask their home health aide to help with wrapping — arthritis takes away the fine motor skills needed to cut, fold, and wrap. 

Managing Mobility and Memory

Make your home as easy to navigate as possible. Install grab bars in the bathrooms, make sure you have a non-slip mat in the tub and shower, and install nightlights in hallways and bathrooms. If you have hardwood stairs, install non-slip gripper tape on the risers. 

If your parents or grandparents are dealing with dementia, understand that the holidays may be overwhelming, and they may get upset or confused more easily than normal. Ask their caregivers if your parent has had any setbacks or depression recently so you can be prepared for changes in behavior.

Overcoming Holiday Challenges 

Plan for quiet time away from the action when that happens, and don't be upset if your father misses something he used to love. The important thing is that you are working together as a family to have happy holidays for everyone. With enough preparation, you and your senior loved ones can overcome these common holiday challenges.