Welcome to the holiday season—that tornado of gift-giving, marketing blitzes, holiday parties, and family traditions. While this season is meant to bring feelings of love and cheer, it’s also the harbinger of holiday stress for many. For many of us the stress could be due to the added list of chores and expenses, especially if we're hosting friends and family. Some struggle with social anxiety, others might have painful memories, and unfortunately, some are mourning the loss of a loved one. This season is probably filled with as much sorrow as it is with cheer.
We all know how children enjoy and look forward to this season, however we must also recognize that seniors want to feel that they are part of the festivities too. It's fine to reduce seniors' stress by offering to hold the holiday event at your home instead of theirs, but still keep them involved by having them cook a favorite dish or maybe help decorate the home.
This season means different things to different people for different reasons. I must say however, that for seniors and their caregivers, this season takes on a whole different meaning with so many added concerns. So this month I shall be sharing tips for a safe and healthy holiday season.
Eat smart: there is so much temptation in the form of delicious food and decadent desserts, so do what you can to have some healthy food at hand for each meal, and be aware of your intake. If a big dinner is planned for New Year's Eve, consider serving a lighter lunch of salad or soup.
Food safety: keep meat, poultry, seafood, fresh fruits/vegetables separate to avoid contamination and food poisoning.
Aging can lower the body's tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking. So, limit your alcohol intake, better still, stick to mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks.
Be mindful of the fact that drinking alcohol with certain medications can have adverse side effects.
To make it easier to stay hydrated, have water easily accessible around the house and keep bottled water in your bag when running errands or travelling.
When decorating the house or christmas tree, try to use safe decorations and ornaments. Try not to use breakable glass/crystal or sharp edged ornaments. Ensure that wires and other tripping hazards are out of the way to avoid falls and injuries.
It's always fun to celebrate and spend quality time with loved ones. Dancing can be fun but make sure seniors are dancing in a safe environment without tripping hazards, ensure proper lighting for good visibility, balance and depth perception.
In Canada, the holidays are synonymous with cold weather and snow. To stick to an exercise schedule, bundle up and go for a walk around the block if the sidewalks are safe. If it's snowing or icy outside, drive to an indoor shopping mall and walk around during off-peak hours.
Try not to disrupt sleep patterns. Sleep is very important and not getting enough can result in confusion, worsen dementia and affect general cognition.
With everything happening around them, seniors can easily be distracted and might forget to take their medications. Set alarms as reminders to make sure no medication dose is missed. Make sure they have enough medications to last the season, as pharmacies and doctors' offices will be closed on certain days during the holidays.
For some seniors, the holidays are a time to travel long distances to visit family and friends. Whether they travel by car, train or plane, keep in mind that an older relative might want to rest upon arrival. They might also need frequent stops if they are on a long drive. Make sure they carry all their medications and prescriptions with them wherever they go. Oh! and make sure they have travel insurance.
The holidays are a time when extended families tend to gather. While this can be a wonderful thing, even the most close-knit families can overdose on togetherness, and chances are that there will be some hot debates and arguments. Try to avoid known triggers and topics that tend to evoke strong emotions.
Too many activities, even if they are fun activities, can culminate in too much holiday stress and leave us feeling frazzled, rather than fulfilled. With family and friends, it’s important to be aware of your limitations. Think back to previous years and try to pinpoint how much togetherness you and your family can take before feeling negative stress.
If older relatives are visiting your home for the holidays, ensure your home is safe and accessible. Consider having your relative sleep on the first floor of your home. If that's not possible, let them stay in a room close to the bathroom. In addition, use nightlights in the hallway so they don't stumble in the dark.
For many seniors, especially those on a fixed income, the holidays can be a financial challenge if they feel the need to purchase gifts for the entire family. To reduce financial stress, consider organizing a "Secret Santa" for the family, so each person only has to buy one present.
For those who don’t have family, loneliness can be just as much of a problem. As the world seems to be gathering with family, those who rely more on friends for support can feel deserted and alone.
If you experience loneliness, consider inviting a group of friends to your home. If all your friends are with family during the holidays, consider volunteering to help those less fortunate than yourself. Many people report these experiences to be extremely fulfilling, and your focus will be on what you have rather than what you lack.
The good thing about holiday stress is that it’s predictable. Unlike many other types of negative stress we encounter in life, we know when holiday stress will begin and end, and we can make plans to reduce the amount of stress we experience and the negative impact it has on us. I hope these tips help reduce holiday stress before it begins so that it remains at a positive level, rather than an overwhelming one.
I can imagine how challenging the holiday season can be for some. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment. Happy Holidays!
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.