All across the country, the pandemic numbers are trending steeply in the wrong direction. Epidemiologists have long warned of a difficult winter season, and we certainly seem to have arrived on the threshold of that prediction.
Sadly, this rise in cases coincides with the winter holidays, traditionally a time for friends and family to gather in year-end celebrations that begin at the end of November and run through the New Year. This means that families will be facing some very hard decisions about get-togethers in the upcoming weeks.
The problem is that COVID-19 doesn’t recognize holidays. And while people may be exhausted by the grueling experience that we’ve all been in since March, now is not the time to relax our guard.
But what does this mean for older adults who already suffer from depression, loneliness, and related physical ailments at this time of year?
For all the glitter and magic of the holiday season, it is still a very difficult time for many. It can be a reminder of lost loved ones, of days gone by, and of how things aren’t exactly how we’d like them to be. Getting together to reconnect with family during the darkest time of the year is sometimes the only thing standing between a senior and very real mental and physical health issues.
If you’re worried about someone in your life, there are some things you can do to help.
Change your expectations.
2020 has been anything but predictable. We’ve all had to adjust to the “new normal,” so we should be experts at rolling with the punches by now. It’s human nature to conjure visions of the holidays as they’ve always been—family gathered around the table or the fire, lots of hugs, and so on. COVID-19 would like nothing better than for us to make that vision a reality, but that’s just not the wisest thing to do right now. Step one to prepare everyone for this year’s holidays is to have an open and honest conversation about what’s possible and what’s not. Don’t let uncertainty about plans become the elephant in the room.
Think about the holidays differently.
Once you’ve adjusted your expectations, it’s time to get creative. Just because you’ll need to do things differently doesn’t mean they can’t still be fabulous. Maybe instead of dinner around the dining room table, you opt to bundle everyone up around an outdoor fire pit with mulled cider. And maybe you rethink how you handle gift giving this year. Holiday shopping is already a source of great anxiety for many, especially seniors who may have limited budgets and access to shopping outlets. Maybe this is the year to do homemade gifts, or donations in lieu of gifts. After all, the holidays are supposed to be about love and gratitude, not who spent the most money.
Get back to basics.
Speaking of love and gratitude, some of the most beloved parts of the holidays have nothing to do with gifts; they have to do with traditions. While many traditions might not be COVID safe, there may be some that still work or can be adapted.
- Is there a favorite family recipe that you can whip up and deliver to your loved one’s doorstep?
- If decorating the Christmas tree is a highlight of your family’s season, maybe you could decorate a small tree with treasured ornaments to brighten your loved one’s room.
- Is there a special story or movie that has always been part of your family gatherings? Maybe you can recreate that experience over Zoom or FaceTime.
It’s true what they say about the little things making a big difference.
Stay in touch.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help stave off loneliness and depression at any time of year―but especially during the holidays―is to just stay in touch. If you’re unable to visit in person, just calling someone up on a regular basis can make a world of difference for them. As we get older, our worlds get smaller and smaller. Regular conversations are a vital connection not only to the people we love, but also to the rest of what’s happening beyond our own four walls. Reaching out to share the news of the day or reminisce about a shared experience from years gone by helps reassure loved ones that they are neither alone nor forgotten.
Sure, they aren’t as good as the real thing, but online hugs and kisses are better than nothing. Today’s technology offers so many options when it comes to connecting virtually with loved ones. If the senior in your life is open to getting up to speed, they can enjoy conversations via videoconferencing. And, as a bonus, once you have them plugged into the digital world, there are thousands of online groups, courses, and events that they explore. From hobby sites and academic lectures to concerts and film festivals to book clubs and cooking classes, there’s no end to the possibilities for connection and entertainment well beyond the holidays.
The holidays can be hard, but finding ways to make them easier doesn’t have to be.
At the end of the day, helping older adults through the hard parts of the holidays is really about slowing down, rethinking your traditions, and including them in as much as you can. It’s about remembering what the holidays are really about, and finding small, simple ways to express that. And it’s about working with what we’ve got, even when what we’ve got is far from perfect.
5 Tips for Successfully Riding the Pandemic’s Rollercoaster
In Times of Crisis, Nature Offers Healing
Holiday Traditions with Grandkids – 8 Great Ideas!
Siblings Caring for Parents: How to Make it Work
6 Fascinating Lecture Series to Get You Through the Winter