Haims column: Making the holidays easier
With the holidays just around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to provide some tips and suggestions about assisting families and elders with ways of making the holidays a bit easier.
For the past 16 years, I have brought my children to San Diego to celebrate Thanksgiving and the birthdays of my mom and brother. It’s become a ritual we all look forward to. My wife’s family is also in southern California, so for us, it’s a time to see our family. However, for my kids it’s always about the food. My mom is a great cook, and they literally fight over her desserts.
Over the past four years, the ritual has changed. Sadly, my mom’s ability to prepare the holiday feast my kids have come to love and look forward to has changed. Four years ago, my brothers and I arranged to have a potluck at the club house where she lives. While it was a lot of work organizing who made what and setting up tables, chairs and decorations, it worked out just fine. And, as my mom was still able to make her desserts, my wife and I laughed once again as the kids fought over the desserts.
Over the past few years my brothers and I have chosen to make the holiday and birthday celebrations easier. We now invite family and friends to share in the celebrations at a local resort. We rent out a private room and continue family traditions — just in a different manner.
More than any other occasions, the holidays are steeped in family tradition, with cherished elements that often span generations. When elder family members experience declining health and maintaining their involvement in those traditions become challenging, we need to think out of the box and adjust.
Here are some suggestions on making sure our elder family and loved ones are included in the holiday:
Evaluate what your loved ones can reasonably manage during the holiday season. No one wants to admit they may not be able to make dinner for 25 anymore, or host everyone for brunch. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate, ask your loved ones.
Determine what traditions matter the most. Take a moment to evaluate which elements of the holiday truly hold meaning for your family, and which are just “the way we’ve always done things.” You may learn that what matters is different from what you expect, and it may open up new ways to celebrate that are easier and more meaningful.
Small modifications can make a big difference. If hosting the holiday is important to a family member that may be experiencing difficulties, perhaps the family can assist by taking care of preparing the table or even bringing the meal over. Or consider catering — most grocery stores will provide full holiday meals at very reasonable prices. You can use the family serving dishes and favorite china but avoid the preparation and cooking time. Your loved one might make one favorite dish, but the bulk of the work could be handled by others.
Be flexible. Pacing and timing of events can make a world of difference for older relatives. If someone is in poor health, perhaps changing the time of a family event to earlier in the day would allow them to participate more fully. Marathon family events could be too much to manage — schedule in downtime like a walk or rest as part of the event to allow everyone a chance to recharge.
Look for opportunities to make things easier in a meaningful way. Managing tasks like shopping and decorating can be a challenge for older relatives, but there are ways to make them easier and still preserve dignity and meaning. Grandchildren can be enlisted to drive their grandparents to shop, giving them a chance for some time together. Perhaps a younger cousin can learn how an older relative does the decorations by helping, or what the secret family recipe really involves. Look for ways to provide assistance in accomplishing tasks that also allow older relatives to pass on beloved tradition.
If your loved one(s) have dementia or Alzheimer’s, the holidays can pose some special challenges. Here are some things to keep in mind:
• Prepare your loved one with photos and conversations about the visiting relatives. Short term memory is often absent in people with dementia, but showing them photos of the relative who will be arriving and talking about them often may help provide a context for their visit.
• Try to keep to routine as much as possible. Lack of sleep and dramatic changes in mealtimes can be disturbing to people with dementia.
• Try to have more visits with fewer people. Instead of bringing all 10 family members over at once, perhaps groups of three or four can come and visit. A smaller group will allow your loved one to put their family members in context more, and can be less overwhelming.
• Share memories often. Loved ones may not remember from morning until night, but they may recall the past very clearly. Ask about their holiday memories, share old songs and photos, and most of all, listen. Being heard can be the greatest gift you can give someone.
What really matters is that everyone gets to enjoy the holidays and their relationships. This is the time to be a daughter, son, grandchild or cousin. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to make that happen.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526
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