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The holidays look different for everyone this year. Yet, it’s also more important than ever to stay connected with the older adults in our community. In a year where more than half of seniors feel isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday season serves as an opportunity to bring joy and cheer into the lives of elderly loved ones—even if physical gathering isn’t possible. Below, Telespond Senior Services’ social worker Julie Condrad shares suggestions for safe, socially distant festivities.

Gather Together Safely…

While traditional meals and large family gatherings may be canceled for the year in accordance with CDC guidelines, Julie recommends several ways to safely celebrate with seniors. Family members can organize holiday parades outside an older loved one’s home, allowing them to enjoy the festivities from the porch or window. Weather-permitting, loved ones could also sit outside (and at least six feet apart) with older loved ones, admire light displays around the neighborhood and even enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. Taking a walk around the neighborhood or traveling to a drive-through lights display can also allow seniors to get into the holiday spirit, while still remaining socially distant. If choosing to gather in the home, Julie urges following the masking and social-distancing guidelines. “For those with conditions such as dementia, having visitors often increases stimulation and may cause anxiety,” she notes, “So be sure to limit visits, especially from those not common to the household.”

…Or Keep in Touch While Apart.

If physical gatherings are not feasible or safe for your family this season, staying connected is still possible thanks to the post office and modern technology. Families can mail cards and ship or drop off packages for senior loved ones so they have something special to open during the holiday season. Zoom and Facetime are also great options for connecting face-to-face (via screen); however, Julie has some words of caution for using the platforms. “Keep in mind that it may be especially confusing or distracting for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, depending on degree of their condition,” she says. “Similarly, using speakerphone may cause distortion if seniors are unsure of where the sound is coming from.” In such cases, she says that telephone calls are a simple but effective resource. Additionally, Julie recommends caregivers work with their senior loved ones to send out handwritten Christmas cards. Not only will seniors be able to share messages with their faraway loved ones, but this also gives them a chance to reminisce with caregivers. “If you have one of those old address books with everyone in them, that’s a great starting point,” Julie says.

Look to the Past…

Reminiscing with older loved ones is always meaningful during the holidays, especially in a year where many much-loved traditions may have to be put on hold. In addition to looking through old address books, Julie recommends that seniors and caregivers pull out cookbooks and holiday cookie recipes. Asking older loved ones, “Where did these recipes come from?” “What was your favorite?” “What’s the difference between how they first made it and how it’s made today?” can encourage them to share memories of holidays past. Julie also advises caregivers and family members try their hand at a few of the traditional dishes, involving seniors in the preparation either in-person or through phone call or video call. “Even narrating and joking about different tasks through texts can help pull out those memories and keep them alive,” she says.

…And Preserve Memories for Years to Come

Along with reminiscing with senior loved ones about past traditions, Julie urges caregivers and loved ones to preserve those cherished memories for future generations. She gives an example from her own family, in which she gave her mother a blank cookbook so she could write down family recipes for cookies, pasta sauce and other dishes. “Even if seniors aren’t able to write out the recipes themselves, caregivers can ask about and record the recipes,” Julie says. “It’s a valuable memory and gift to have in hand, especially in your loved one’s handwriting.”

Cherish Extra Time Together…

Caregivers of older adults will likely enjoy even more time than usual with their loved ones this holiday season, and Julie encourages taking advantage of this by carrying out old traditions and starting new ones. For example, watching Christmas movies from the timeframe seniors would enjoy could spark even more remembrance of prior holiday seasons. Though many seniors enjoy attending Christmas Eve church services, Julie suggests watching virtual services can still allow them to connect with the spirit of the season. Seniors who attend programming at Telespond Senior Services will find a similar balance of old and new—our adult day care program spaces are decorated festively, holiday crafts and activities are available during the month of December, and holiday tunes serve as festive background music throughout each day.

…But Remember to Take Breaks, Too!  

Though spending time with the older loved ones you live with is incredibly meaningful this year, Julie also stresses the importance of caregiver respite. “Have someone come and visit with your family member, either so you can go out or simply sit in another room and listen to music, look at lights, and have time to reflect,” she says. If caregivers are becoming overwhelmed with expectations and restrictions, Julie recommends reaching out to other family members, friends, or trusted medical providers for extra support. Additionally, organizations like Telespond Senior Services and the Alzheimer’s Association offer resources for both seniors and their loved ones, and programming like Telespond’s adult day services provides a safe, comfortable environment for older loved ones in that also allows family members the opportunity to work, run errands, or perform other daily tasks. Finally, Julie advises struggling caregivers to give her a call. You can reach her at 570-346-7860.

The 2020 holidays bring a unique set of challenges, but there is also potential for this to be a joyful, festive season for you and your older loved ones in which old traditions can be revisited and new ones begun. Telespond Senior Services remains committed to supporting families in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, both during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year.

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