‘Tis the season for twinkle lights, hot cocoa, and maybe even some caroling. It’s also the season for organizing busy calendars, baking for the next family gathering, and sending out holiday cards. Whether you find yourself excited about the upcoming season or a bit worried about how to get it all done, we are here with the resources you need to stay healthy and happy.

Here are a few of our favorite tips to ensure everyone in the family, caregivers and seniors included, can make the most of the season while still feeling their best.

1. Take Care of Yourself 

Self-care matters, especially during an already busy and stressful season. Family caregivers are especially prone to caregiver burnout during the holidays as they attempt to juggle personal and professional obligations.

Remember, you can’t fill others up if you’re operating with an empty gas tank. Take some time to think about what you need to do to get through the holiday season without a mental or physical health crisis. Ask yourself:

  • Is there anything I can do to reduce holiday stress? Which traditions are most important, and which can I let fall by the wayside?

  • What do I want to happen most this holiday season, and what will make this happen?

  • What can I delegate to other people?

  • What do I need to do to tend to my own needs? A standing massage appointment, a weekly reading hour, or a daily nap can all make a big difference in your well-being.

  • How can I set my calendar up so that it includes scheduled rest?

2. Plan Healthy Meals

Healthy food is fuel for everything you do this holiday season. Don’t just focus on a single big holiday meal; make sure everyone has plenty of healthy snacks by stocking the fridge and cabinets with protein-rich nuts and cheese, easy-to-eat fruits like blueberries and raspberries, and healthy sweet treats like yogurt.

When it does come time for the big holiday meal (or meals), planning ahead is key. Just a few tips can help everyone enjoy the festivities safely while still getting their favorite comfort foods:

  • Some seniors struggle to chew or swallow their food. Consider serving foods that are easily cut into small pieces, as well as sides that require little chewing, such as mashed potatoes.

  • Tastes can change with age. Many seniors crave very flavorful food. Try adding more seasoning for a senior who complains that their meal is bland.

  • Be mindful of dietary restrictions, including diabetic needs, food allergies, and other common struggles. It’s often easy to replace one side with a tasty alternative. For example, sweet potatoes are a better option than regular potatoes for most diabetics, and many desserts don’t require eggs, making them safe for people with egg allergies.

  • If your loved one uses any adaptive eating tools, such as weighted utensils, be sure you have those at their place setting so they can eat independently and with dignity.

3. Accept Help

It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who can — or will — do everything. But here’s the best-kept caregiver secret: The holidays do not have to be perfect, and you do not have to do it all. Accept help in whatever form it comes — whether it’s your preschooler offering to wipe down countertops or your grandmother helping to decorate the table. Some great strategies to get more help include:

  • Asking each guest to bring a side to dinner

  • Assigning specific duties to family members

  • Ensuring each person with special needs, such as a senior with dementia or a cousin with a developmental disability, has an appointed helper who spends time with them and tends to their needs

  • Downsizing the work you do if you don’t have enough support or don’t get much enjoyment out of a particular task

4. Know the Signs of Depression

The holidays are an emotionally tricky time. There’s a great deal of pressure to perform happiness even when you’re struggling. It’s normal to feel grief for times past or to feel frustrated or overwhelmed. Similarly, you may notice your loved ones struggling more over the holidays — that’s normal, too. But just because a bad feeling is normal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it.

Depression is more than just sadness. It can feel overwhelming and unbearable, but it is also treatable. If you feel hopeless, worthless, guilty, or unmotivated, you may be struggling with depression. Your loved ones may be depressed if they don’t engage in family events they once relished, sleep too much or too little, seem apathetic or despondent, or suddenly have a bad temper.

If you notice signs of depression in your loved one or in yourself, follow up with a phone call to your physician. The right treatment and support can go a long way in finding your way back to feeling like yourself.

5. Understand Seniors’ Needs

When you’re a caregiver to a senior, it’s easy to spend so much time thinking about what the senior should have that you don’t think about what they want.

The fact that your loved one has physical or intellectual limitations does not mean that they want different things or will feel OK about being excluded. Expect that they still want to be included, honored, and respected, and then find ways to do those things. Listen to what your loved one says, and if at all possible, honor their requests. A parent with dementia who wants to make the holiday meal can still feel important if you let them help with dessert or set the table.

As people age, traditions inevitably change. Your dad may no longer be able to make his famous Christmas Eve French toast. Your mom might not be able to participate in Hanukkah festivities like she once did.

6. Establish New Traditions

The frustrating thing is that as families change, these traditions may feel even more important because of the way they connect people and establish continuity across generations. So find ways to preserve traditions if you can. If you can’t, don’t waste the holiday season grieving what you’ve lost. Find new traditions that may be just as fun. A family cookie-baking evening, a Thanksgiving meal at a fabulous restaurant, and any number of other fun events may reduce stress and make for a meaningful holiday.

At Arbor, we believe in honoring old traditions and shaping new ones. We give seniors a safe, fun place to call home while helping families manage the myriad challenges of caregiving. We’d love to welcome you to one of our many holiday events so you can explore what Arbor is all about. Give us a call or send us an email to learn more!

7. Think About Long-Term Care Needs

Because family members often visit their loved ones more during the holiday season, it’s common for adult children to suddenly see that a parent might not be thriving at home. If you are wondering what the next steps for your loved one should be, we invite you to join us for our free webinar, Senior Living LIVE! Home for the Holidays. You’ll hear from Arbor residents, family members, and staff experts about what senior living is like, how to know if it's the right decision, and the benefits — for everyone — that come along with a senior family member moving to a senior living community.

Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season for all of us!

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