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Help Seniors Overcome Holiday Stress: 4 Tips

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Nearly everyone looks forward to the holiday season—but not necessarily to the stress, it seems to bring along. Your life may already feel like a pressure cooker as you juggle your senior loved one's needs with those of your family, your career and yourself. Add in holiday stress related to shopping, cooking, and traveling, and it might be easy to overlook the stressors that could be hindering your senior loved one's ability to enjoy the holidays to the fullest.

Holiday-related stress may look different to seniors than it does to caregivers. Seniors may not feel the pressure of shopping for the perfect gift or of planning the ideal family dinner, but they may feel sadness or anxiety— two emotions that can prevent them from feeling happy during the holidays.

The good news is you may be able to minimize these stressors for your senior family members without adding to your own holiday strain. Here are four types of holiday stress seniors might have to cope with—and what you can do to help.

1.    Grief

The holidays bring about memories of beloved friends and relatives who have passed on. Seniors may particularly miss their late spouse at this time of year. Even if a senior family member lost his or her spouse many years ago, they may find themselves grieving again at the holiday season.

To help a senior family member cope with holiday grief that involves the loss of a spouse, consider talking about it. Caregivers often worry about upsetting their loved one, but "sharing the sorrow" by encouraging seniors to tell stories about their deceased loved one can be a good way to help them grieve, according to Mental Health America. You might start by asking the senior if he or she is thinking about his or her late spouse, or share your own happy holiday anecdote involving the deceased loved one.

2.    Dietary Concerns

Picture the holiday dinner table set for the entire family, with all kinds of delicious foods and traditional recipes made especially for the occasion.

Now imagine surveying that table with a sense of anxiety about how a favorite family dish might upset your stomach because of a new medication you're taking. Or, the fear of eating a food you used to enjoy that now upsets your stomach or gives you diarrhea.

Many factors can influence the types of food a senior is able to eat. Problems with chewing or swallowing may make it difficult for them to eat "regular" food. Medical conditions and medications may restrict a senior's diet. A senior's digestive tract simply may not function as well as it used to function. As a result, senior family members may worry about whether a holiday gathering will include foods they can eat safely and without the fear of post-meal discomfort.

You can help relieve this anxiety by asking about the senior's dietary requirements in advance. Find out if a senior family member must avoid certain foods, or if he or she will need a selection of soft foods like mashed potatoes. Then, make it a point to incorporate some senior-friendly dishes into your family dinner so that everyone can enjoy it.

3.    Mobility Concerns

Seniors who have fallen in the past or who use an assistive device like a cane or walker may wonder if they will be able to attend holiday gatherings held in a location unfamiliar to them, like the home of a relative they've never visited. They may be concerned about whether or not they will have to go up and down stairs or how far they will need to walk in order to get from the car to the party. They also might worry about their safety if they must walk through snow or other slippery conditions to get from the car to the door.

Giving seniors information in advance can help them avoid stressing over these issues. Describe the places where they will be attending each party, church service or other holiday-related events. Tell them about possible issues like stair steps or long stretches of walking. Then, work together to formulate a plan that addresses these issues in a way that enables the senior to enjoy the activity instead of worrying about whether or not his or her legs will hold up.

4.    End-of-Life Thoughts

Senior family members may experience bittersweet feelings about the holidays. On the one hand they may enjoy gathering with their families, but on the other hand, they may wonder if this will be "the last" holiday for them.

Talking about death is hard, and you may not want to come right out and ask a senior loved one if he or she is feeling this way. Instead, you can ask them what you can do to make the holiday as special as possible for them. This approach allows them to make specific suggestions for things they may want to experience "one last time," such as enjoying a unique family recipe, listening to particular music or participating in a specific activity like looking through photo albums.

Seniors deserve to enjoy the holidays without feeling stressed. With a little forethought about the anxieties that may be sapping your loved one's happiness, you can make the festive season as enjoyable for him or her as possible.

Have any of your senior family members ever talked about the stress they feel during the holiday season? What stressed them out the most? How did you deal with it?


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