Winter holidays with elderly parents can be difficult or confusing at times to navigate for families. While we want our loved ones to be part of our holiday celebrations, as our parents age we may need to allow traditions to evolve so we can meet them where they are.

Common Challenges During Holidays With Elderly Parents

The two most common challenges we see here at Benton House may seem in some ways to be opposite ends of the spectrum, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s natural for aging seniors to experience either loneliness from missing friends, or overstimulation from too many people, over the holidays – and it’s also not unusual for your elderly loved ones to experience both at the same time.

Let’s take a deeper look at both common experiences during the holidays with elderly parents, including what to look out for and how you can support your loved one to feel like they are an important part of seasonal celebrations, while still maintaining their sense of safety and comfort.

When Seniors Miss Friends and Traditions 

“I’m the only one left!” is a quip we often hear from seniors.

While it’s often said with humor, the reality is that there is a hard truth behind the joke. As we age, our circle of friends grows smaller. It’s painful to lose peers as you get older, and the holidays highlight this like no other time of year.

Seniors may experience loneliness during the winter season, triggered by missing their peers. It often surfaces most acutely during the holidays because of the loss of treasured traditions with friends who are no longer around.

So, what can you do?

First, look out for signs of listlessness, withdrawal, or even depression:

  • Have mom’s grooming habits changed?
  • Is dad sleeping more than usual?
  • Is mom still getting out and walking every day? (Or another activity she usually enjoys.)

Consider how you may be able to offer support:

Perhaps mom has lost a dear friend she used to always go holiday shopping with to mark the season. Though of course you can’t replace that friendship, offering to take mom to the department stores can help both get her mind off missing her friend, and also restore some of the tradition she loved.

Maybe dad used to play a celebratory golf game with friends who are no longer with us. Is there a grandchild or someone in the family who enjoys the sport and could revive the tradition in a new way?

If your parents used to go to a certain church service together, can the kids and grandkids rally to keep up the annual tradition, even though dad is no longer around?

When Seniors Feel Overstimulated From Holiday Activities

One of the challenges of holidays with elderly parents is that some seniors, particularly those who experience dementia, may feel overstimulated from holiday hustle and bustle.

Often at Benton House we see children come to pick up their parents for a specific holiday celebration, and discover that mom or dad has decided they don’t want to attend. This can be painful to receive, and hard to understand, but holidays can be overly stimulating for some seniors.

They’re comfortable in their familiar environment and routines, and experiencing dementia can often mean large groups feel too stimulating and confusing.

So, what can you do?

First, try to understand where your loved one may be coming from, and remember that whatever they’re experiencing is valid, and not personal to you.

If you’re noticing unexpected resistance by mom or dad about joining in on holiday festivities, take a moment to empathize and see if you can find a solution that will work for everyone.

Consider how you may be able to offer support:

Try to meet them where they are by considering some alternative approaches, whether your loved one lives in an assisted living home or in their own home:

  • If your loved one experiences dementia, can you bring one or two grandchildren along to visit at a time to reduce overwhelm and create a calmer environment for a special visit?
  • If your loved one doesn’t have dementia, or is open to leaving their familiar space anyway, can you pick them up and bring them over to a small gathering of just a few family members, versus a 30-person holiday evening?

Meet Your Loved One Where They Are

Whatever your elderly parents are experiencing this time of year, our best tip is to be gentle, understanding, and direct where possible. We want mom and dad to feel like they’re a vital part of the holiday season, while still being sensitive to their evolving needs.

Our last tip for enjoying the holidays with elderly parents is to simply ask mom or dad what’s important to them to do over this season. You might be surprised to learn what they would enjoy most.

If you could use support navigating the holidays this season with your aging parents, we’re always here to talk.

Call us at 855-461-2552 or send us a message, anytime.