How Do I Make the Holidays Special for My Elderly Father?
"I have an older father and wonder how I can make Christmas special for him. The challenges are many, and I hope you have a few ideas about how I can make things fun when he’s so limited.
Here is his story – Dad is 92 years old and lives in an independent apartment in a complex for the elderly. He has one bedroom, a living space, and a small galley kitchen. In other words, his apartment is small. He gets around with a walker. His hearing is not great in a crowd, and he tends to shut down when there’s a group of more than two around. He doesn’t seem that interested in what’s going on with others anymore and doesn’t talk as much as he used to or get out a lot. I’m not even sure if we can get him to agree to come to our home for a Christmas dinner.
I really want to know how to include him in the holidays and make it memorable for him. We never know when it will be the last."
How thoughtful of you to notice your father’s level of participation in the festivities and consider his needs. Most of us are so busy at year end that we struggle to get everything done or accommodate anyone who cannot fit in with the crowd.
The very old do struggle with the specifics you mentioned and more. As one enters their mid 90s and beyond, their capabilities change. For example, most will struggle with mobility at this age. It will be either balance, joints, or some musculature issue causing weakness. Walkers and wheelchairs are commonplace for the 90 plus crowd.
Hearing loss makes group gatherings difficult to navigate. With hearing loss, one needs to be facing their conversational partner and make out most of a sentence to grasp its meaning. Extraneous conversation mixes with the sound coming in and makes it almost impossible for someone like him to hear and respond appropriately. That is why you’ll observe someone like him withdrawing from conversation and simply waiting and watching. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be included; he just simply doesn’t know what’s being said.
Almost everyone living into their 90s has some vision impairment. This can make strange environments less comfortable and honestly, less safe.
He may even face bathroom issues. If he has bowel or bladder trouble, he may not want to be too far from his bathroom.
With these barriers in mind, make this upcoming holiday special and memorable for your father with these suggestions:
- Help him decorate his apartment. Bring out memorable decorations, and, with just one person or a small group, put them up and take them down.
- Help your father purchase gifts for others and offer to wrap them.
- At gatherings, remind others to speak directly to him by facing him. Steer some of the conversation to him and ask the family to give him time to speak without jumping in to either interrupt or talk over him.
- Make sure any family game or activity can be adapted to include your father. Examples: play a card game he loves, have him tell a story, or prepare one of his favorite foods.
- Consider having family visit him in small groups of one to four if stopping by his apartment.
- Take him on holiday outings that don’t require a lot of walking, such as holiday light tours, places you can wheel him around, or quiet restaurants.
- Spend time one-on-one with him and gift him experiences like that throughout the year.
Including the elderly in holiday activities takes additional planning and is hard to do when there are so many tasks to complete. The time spent can be well worth it for him and hold precious memories for you. Little thoughtful actions can make all the difference between just another holiday and one that is memorable. May this be a joyous holiday for you and your father.
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