Connecting with seniors over the holidays

Be caring and ease feelings of isolation with safe and creative ways to reach out during the COVID-19 holiday season

A young family chats with grandma over a webcam on Christmas morning.

You may be wondering how to best support seniors and loved ones this holiday season, now that COVID-19 cases are on the rise and gatherings are discouraged. While you may not be hosting large family get-togethers to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah (and potentially even Valentine’s Day and Easter 2021), you can still show love, create good feelings, boost mental wellness and empower seniors over the holidays.

Says Dr. Heather Palmer, Amica’s Cognitive Well-being Advisor, “The holidays can still be festive and joyful for seniors despite the pandemic and increased indoor time due to winter weather. Even small actions like a safe-distance porch conversation, or sending a handmade gift says to seniors, ‘I see you’ and ‘I care.’” The Globe and Mail interviewed Dr. Palmer in this article on How to celebrate the holidays in pandemic times.

Get informed

Seniors are especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, so read up about the latest public health guidance in your region, understand the difference between COVID-19 and flu symptoms, and follow the hand-hygiene, social distancing and visiting rules. Don’t plan a visit or gathering with a senior living in a private retirement residence or long-term care facility without first checking about visitor restrictions. Then, use those safety guidelines — designed to protect —  to help shape imaginative new ways to say “Happy Holidays.”

Make a collective holiday plan

Dr. Palmer recommends talking with your family, friends and caregivers to map out how you’ll consistently support the seniors in your life during the festive season – even if it’s at a distance. As she says, “It might be about scheduling calls from different people on different days, or some in the morning and others in the afternoon. Or, sending a series of cards with photos and notes, so they’re getting something regularly in the mail.”

Other ideas could include organizing Zoom calls from different families throughout the eight nights of Hanukkah, delivering an amaryllis or a batch of homemade Christmas cookies, or sending artwork or a Happy Easter balloon-a-gram from the grandkids. Think about what’s most important to the seniors in your life and use your ingenuity to brainstorm fun ways to spark holiday joy.

Give the gift of cheer and activity

Nothing offsets loneliness and isolation like staying busy, so consider presents and virtual plans that offer something to do. Dr. Palmer likes the idea of sending active seniors all of the ingredients to make a beloved holiday family recipe, for instance, or materials to create a seasonal craft to decorate their suite. Or, schedule a holiday carol sing-a-long via Google Meet (with everyone wearing ugly Christmas sweaters!).

Encourage continual learning on your loved one’s favourite subjects. Why not send an email for the 12 Days Of Christmas with links to fascinating online classes or an online portal to see the northern lights, pandas or other virtual wildlife and nature hotspots?

For seniors with dementia who may not enjoy video experiences or telephone calls, Dr. Palmer suggests creating a multi-sensory story box that evokes happy feelings, including things like a gingerbread-scented room spray or a few old family Christmas tree ornaments.

The key is to create a calendar of connection so that seniors feel supported before, during and after seasonal events. “Holidays are emotionally charged times for most – often a roller coaster of both happy and sad memories,” explains Dr. Palmer. “Having the love and support of family and friends helps to balance the sad with the happy.”

Discover holiday senior living at Amica

At Amica, we empower seniors to age with a sense of optimism. This holiday season, that involves spirit-boosting activities planned with comprehensive safety protocols in place, from learning how to make seasonal mocktails or holiday crafts for charity, to hosting a musical Zoom night with residents. (See some of our activities on social media, and talk to your local Amica residence about how to lend your talents to a virtual or socially distanced event.) It’s really about living each day safely and to the fullest.

Schedule a tour to learn more about inspiring lifestyles for seniors including exceptional dining, amenities, activities and flexible, personalized care.