Seniors and the holidays

By Stephanie Loda, LCSW, Family Service Senior & Caregiver Program Coordinator

The end-of-the-year holidays (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, etc.) are supposed to be great, right?!  We are bombarded with media depictions of families coming together, enjoying perfectly prepared meals, and behaving in a loving manner.  The contrast between what is “supposed to be” and what actually is can trigger feelings of sadness and disappointment in many of us, but older adults face some particular challenges around the holidays.

One of the biggest challenges is coping with loss.  The holidays can stir up memories of important people who have passed away.  Or someone might be confronted with how much he or she has changed and is no longer able to participate as in the past. 

Secondly, changes in family structure can make the holidays difficult.  Family members may have moved away and cannot be present.  Marriage, divorce, births and deaths all change the dynamics of a family gathering.  Meeting the spouses and significant others of one’s grandchildren might be a daunting experience.

Finally, many older adults find that their energy level is just not what it used to be.  Maybe going to Midnight Service and then being with the children on Christmas morning was a good idea in the past, but it is no longer realistic.  Coping with hearing loss can make large, noisy events very stressful and exhausting.

If you are uncertain how an older adult in your life is feeling about the holidays, ASK!  Take the opportunity to plan together ahead of time with as few expectations as possible.  Change is a part of life, and holiday celebrations are no exception.  Being open to new traditions can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.