Holidays — not just for children

When you hear the word “holiday,” what comes to mind? Is it your favorite cookie recipe, special music, the familiar smell of traditional foods, memory-making times with family, or other wonderful things?

Often, for the older adults in our families, holidays produce a mixed range of emotions. Along with many happy memories, older adults also may be coping with stresses triggered during holiday times.

A few tips to help families with older adults prepare for the holidays:

Give practical and useful gifts: Give gifts of safety, comfort, and convenience. Share homemade goodies that your older adult enjoys by bringing them a “one-serving” portion. Many times our elderly family members have physical conditions that include special diets. However, one small, special treat is often permissible, but be sure to check with their health care professional first.

Consider your older relatives’ physical abilities and needs: Engaging in family traditions such as decorating a tree, spending time caroling outside, or baking may require some creative re-planning as family members age.

Tune into the holiday blues: During holiday get-togethers plan a specific remembrance celebration of good friends and family members who are no longer alive. Encourage your elderly adults to share their difficult feelings by making time to listen to them. Sometimes these feelings surface after the holiday is over when there are likely to be fewer visitors.

Holidays may be times to assess your older adult’s physical and mental health: The holidays may be a rare time for all family members to be in one place at one time. This together time could give your family an opportunity to tune into and assess changed habits such as decreasing appetite, neglect or deterioration of personal hygiene, and the purchasing of unusual items, especially purchases from television advertisements.

Families need to recognize warning signs of depressions. While the “holiday blues” are usually temporary, clinical depression tends to linger long after the holiday is over. Depression affects 15 of every 100 adults over age 65 in the United States. Do not wait for it to disappear. Instead, contact the older adult’s healthcare provider for help should you observe any warning signs in your elderly family member.

Volunteer during the holidays. Families can work with their older members to take food when visiting shut-ins, provide or purchase something for a community holiday event, or make a quilt for the local shelter. Studies show that older per-sons who volunteer stay physically active; engage their brains, thereby protecting memory; and have fewer medical problems than the senior population in general.

Visit NDSU Extension’s website for publications and programs for older adults and their families: www.ag.ndsu.edu/aging

Although holidays can be stressful for all of us, they also can be times of great joy. Remember to include your older adult family members in the making of new traditions and in planning for family celebrations. With careful preparation, holidays can be times of celebration and memory making for both young and old.