The silver bells, holiday music, festive lights and extravagant decorations are not the only things that distinguish the shopping malls and strip centers, and even the traffic on the streets and highways, during the Christmas season from the rest of the year. Shops, department stores, even grocery stores, are populated with children chaperoned by adults whose physical appearance and interactions reveal instantly they are the kid’s grandparents, not parents. The cars, SUVs, even pick-ups, are peopled with multi-generational passengers, some whose faces register out-of-town expressions. It is the time when families get together and share fun, fellowship, fondness and food. Unfortunately, it can also be the time for falls, failings, fiascos and frustration.
Festive frills foster falls
The festive frills that embellish homes at Christmas are a favorite aspect of the season, but they can foster falls. Decorate with safety for senior citizens in mind. Ornaments spread across the floor to bedeck the house for the season - especially strings of Christmas lights - create a hazard for the elderly. Keep decorations in containers off of the floor while decorating, and avoid electrical extension cords running across walking areas.
A living room with a Christmas tree, seasonal floor arrangements and tabletops of seasonal knickknacks can be difficult for those with mobility issues to navigate without bumping into or tripping over objects. Multiply the hazard when a walker or a cane is involved. Be certain the number of items and their placement are consistent with the limitations of seniors who must ambulate around them.
Clutter can cause confusion
A senior citizen with Alzheimer’s or other dementia can experience extravagant Christmas decoration as confusing clutter. Consider judicious selection of favorites from a collection of holiday treasures if a beloved senior suffers from diminished mental capacity. This can balance the pleasure of holiday decorations with the loved one’s cognitive abilities.
Depression dampens delight
Holidays for some seniors bring not joy and delight in celebration, but sadness and depression. For many, Christmas is a reminder that friends and family members have passed away, that the frequency of family gatherings has declined, and that their own ability to participate in the occasion has diminished.
Family members should be alert to any symptom of depression, picking up on clues that something isn’t right with a loved one. If symptoms appear to be more long-standing but worsened during the season, schedule an appointment with a physician to determine if antidepressants should be prescribed.
Steps to ward off depression should be employed year-round, and especially during the holiday season. Engaging in regular phone and email contact, as well as routine face-to-face visits, can help the elderly feel cared for, thought about and loved, rather than abandoned or forgotten. Encourage older family members to socialize with friends and participate in community events. Do all you can to make them feel “special.”
Depression manifests itself in some elderly as irritability and crankiness. Depressed seniors may exhibit negativity toward holiday activities, family members and friends. They may become argumentative, creating discord and dissension. Family members should learn tactics to distract the senior and to divert discussion away from unpleasant topics of conversation. With many seniors, it is not just politics and religion that should be avoided, but other trigger topics which push that particular combative senior’s buttons.
Food foments fiascos
Holiday food traditions are often central to the family celebration of Christmas. Lack of planning and sensitivity to dietary restrictions that may be the new normal for senior members can foment a fiasco. It may be enough to serve buffet style so that seniors can pick and chose those items that fit within their allowed boundaries without having to push forbidden items aside on a crowded plate.
However, if the restrictions involve beloved foods the loved one resents having to give up, that buffet may tempt them to cheat. In some instances, cheating may not cause immediate harm but in those with food allergies – nuts, for example, such a prevalent ingredient in many holiday recipes - or for whom a certain food brings on severe intestinal reactions, the consequences can be dire. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or other dementia may not be capable of avoiding harmful food choices on their own, so that additional precautions must be tailored for them.
As menus are planned, determine what adjustments in food preparation and serving will keep elderly partakers safe and healthy.
Nix needless noise
Let’s face it, noise is a part of any holiday get-together - more people in the room, more devices emitting sound and more commotion all around. Many senior citizens have become accustomed to quieter environments than those presented during Christmas celebrations. Thoughtful accommodation can be made without squelching spirits.
Children can be assigned play areas outdoors or portions of interiors that allow less sound to reach sensitive senior ears. Buy earphones – they are relatively cheap and many are interchangeable among devices - for television sets, play stations, computers, MP3 players, smart phones and other audio devices. These allow individuals to create their own unique sound settings without disturbing others.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a season of good cheer, whatever your age. Happy holidays!
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an elder law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain. If you have questions about this column or wish to suggest a topic of interest, she may be contacted at (254) 797-0211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.