It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many, but for others, the holidays can bring difficulty and loneliness. Seniors in the community may feel disconnected from the seasonal cheer if they can’t be with family due to mobility issues, chronic pain, or memory loss, or if it is difficult for them to participate in holiday traditions that they have practiced in the past.
If you have a senior loved one in your life that has these struggles, you may feel overwhelmed with uncertainty of how to care for and include them. We want you to be able to enjoy this wonderful time of year with your loved ones, so we spoke to some local professionals about what you and your loved one can do to keep spirits bright. If your loved one lives in their own home, this is also a good time to be sure that it is ready for the winter and will keep them safe and warm throughout the next few months. In addition to holiday suggestions, these local experts also offered tips on how to help your senior loved ones stay safe this winter.
No Driving, No Problem
A challenge that many seniors face as they continue to age is losing the ability to conduct daily activities, such as driving. This creates difficulty for seniors who need to pick up refills for their important prescriptions – unless they call Nebraska LTC Pharmacy (www.neltcpharmacy.com). Nebraska LTC is truly a concierge pharmacy that delivers a small-town level of service to each one of their customers. They aim to provide individualized patient care that increases safety and prolongs patients’ independence. When you contact Nebraska LTC, their New Patient Consultant and Community Liaison, Gayleen Bradley, will visit you at your home and collect all of your medications and gather information about them.
“We take these medications back to the pharmacist, who will do a medication review and call all the doctors involved with that person’s care to make sure we are all on the same page,” explained Gayleen. “The pharmacist puts all of the medications in an easy-to-use blister pack so that the patient can see them really well and won’t have a problem with it. We have a courier service to take the medications to our patients’ homes every week. There’s no charge for any of those services!”
Nebraska LTC is unique in the senior living industry because they can help seniors prolong their independence and time spent living in their own home by helping them stay on top of taking their medications and avoid any risks taken if they were to drive to the pharmacy. With winter soon settling in, we will be seeing snow and ice in the coming months – don’t let your loved one take the risk of driving to the pharmacy in poor conditions. Nebraska LTC will make sure they get their important medications delivered right to their doorstep!
It’s common for seniors to experience some feelings of isolation and loneliness during the holidays. One effective coping mechanism that brings lots of positive benefits is working out and focusing on your health.
We received some advice from Jeff Madsen with Right Foot Forward Fitness (www.rightfootforwardfitness.com). “Starting an exercise program gives your mind and spirit something to focus on besides the troubles of the day,” said Jeff. “Exercise will help you combat many things, from bone weakness to loss of muscle strength and vitality to challenges with your cardiovascular health and endurance. It provides a very concrete action plan that will help you feel better about so many things, precisely because you are taking action and controlling one of the very few things you actually can control – yourself!”
Jeff also spoke about seniors who are suffering from stiffness in the joints and muscles, which can make it difficult and uncomfortable to leave the home. He offered a solution to this difficulty.
“Sometimes seniors find that they are starting to struggle physically to keep up with their plans and busy life,” he said. “Things that weren’t challenging before start to become challenging. That’s where we can help. It’s very possible for seniors to increase their balance, proprioception, strength, and endurance by utilizing safe and effective exercises modified specifically for their needs.”
Kyle Johnson with CCA Home Care (www.ccahomecare.com) also had much to say on the importance of addressing all aspects of physical health for seniors as early as possible, especially leading into the winter months.
“Declining eyesight or hearing, mobility problems, and memory issues can lead to losing the ability to drive, an increased risk of falling, and everyday tasks becoming more difficult to perform,” he said. “These health concerns are even more important to take into consideration during the winter. Making sure seniors have mental stimulation, companionship, transportation for outings, and assistance with personal care or household chores can help keep these issues under control.”
Staying physically and mentally active can make a lasting impact on a senior’s health and wellness. Many seniors find it helpful to have a caregiver assist them in their home with tasks such as bathing, dressing, and laundry to keep them safe and healthy without taking away their independence.
CCA refers caregivers who are CNAs and can assist seniors with companionship, personal care, light housekeeping, and much more. They have caregivers available to help starting at one hour or up to 24 hours a day, along with access to short-term assistance in the case of an emergency. This flexibility gives families the peace of mind knowing their loved one is being cared for by a qualified and caring individual. They also have an ElderCare Resource Handbook, which is an all-inclusive listing of services, programs, and other resources available for the aging in the community, and may be helpful to seniors in getting through the holidays and winter months.
Holiday traditions are an important part of family relationships. They often serve as the foundation for families, bringing them together and letting them share intimate moments.
When elderly loved ones miss out on family holiday traditions, or are unable to participate like they used to, it can lead to feelings of separation and even depression. We spoke to Julie Day, client care coordinator with Visiting Angels (www.visitingangels.com/lincoln/home), about some of the ways families can keep their loved ones included.
“We can help keep our senior loved ones from being part of the statistics by helping them fight off depression over the holidays,” Julie began. “While the family is together, bring out old family movies and photo albums. Tell stories about the good times and talk about the loved ones who are gone. These conversations can bring back happy memories. Honor the family and the memories instead of letting those thoughts of loss creep into the forefront. Play favorite music and classic movies during the holiday season when the family is together and when your senior may be alone to bring smiles instead of frowns.”
Julie suggested watching old comedy shows that bring a chuckle, like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, or Laurel and Hardy. Many of these shows can be found on TV, bought or rented on DVD, or watched on an online streaming service.
“Keep your senior busy! Find fun things to do to occupy them throughout the season and shortly afterward so that they don’t have time to let their mind dwell on sad times or losses they have experienced,” said Julie. “These things include making cookies, taking a nature walk, writing holiday cards and notes, playing a game, visiting a museum, going to a local event like a parade or church choir, taking in a holiday movie, driving around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights and decorations, doing a craft project, planning a family meal, and shopping together.”
Julie reminded us that the holidays are emotional for many people, and that having the extra support from a trusted caregiver – especially when family cannot be there in person – is so important. They do not take days off and can be there on any holiday as well. Their caregivers are happy to help their clients get on a family Zoom call so that they can see the faces of their loved ones, or take part in classic holiday traditions with them such as decorating, addressing cards, wrapping gifts, or just reminiscing.
In addition to staying connected and engaged with your senior loved ones, it’s important to make sure they are safe and comfortable before the coldest season of the year really settles in. Beth Friesen, owner of Oasis Senior Advisors (bethfriesenrn.com), gave us some insight as to what to expect during this time of year for seniors.
“This is often the most difficult time of year for our seniors with more falls, accidents, and illness reported,” said Beth. “If you think a senior living community may be in the future, consider a short-term stay over the winter months. They can ‘test drive’ the community and see what it would be like to live there full-time. This way they have transportation, nutritious meals, exercise, and companionship built right into their lifestyle. You will likely see a decrease in the amount you worry for your loved one’s safety and well-being during the winter months.”
For loved ones with dementia, this is an especially difficult time of year because of shorter days and a decreasing ability to be outdoors. This can make dementia symptoms worse, and family should be prepared for their loved one to make a downturn this time of year. In addition to this, Beth also explained that loneliness is, as expected, the biggest challenge that seniors face over the holidays.
“It’s so difficult being away from family when it is tough to fill your days,” Beth shared. “Scientific studies find that those living in a senior living community suffer less isolation and loneliness and thus report a higher quality and quantity of life. If family isn’t here to spend the holidays with their elderly loved ones, then it’s likely they are unable to be here to check in regularly, either. It may be time to consider an in-home care provider or a senior living community to address some of these challenges.”
When it comes to the holidays, they are often at the forefront of a senior’s mind, especially if they are not working or raising a family and are left with more time to prep and plan for the season. Often, senior loved ones are concerned about getting to spend enough time with their family, so keep them included in the planning and decision making whenever possible.
“Don’t assume they don’t want to help with preparations just because they are older, but also avoid overwhelming them with too much responsibility if they are no longer able to do as much as they once did,” said Beth.
If you are unable to be with your senior loved one this holiday season, consider an in-home care companion, or asking other relatives to include your loved one in the holiday gatherings. If a senior has a place of worship they frequent, Beth suggested calling to see what they may have to offer for the holidays. There are many resources available to help you keep a close eye on your loved one when you cannot be there.
Managing Holiday Stress
It’s no secret that the holiday season can be stressful. A time that should be joyful for all can be ruined by the long list of tasks involved with preparing meals and buying gifts. Home Care Partners (www.homecarepartnersofnebraska.com) has compiled a few ideas on how to reduce the stress of the season, so everyone can enjoy spending time with their loved ones.
“Get a jump start on get-togethers,” suggested Co-owner Karla Frese. “Being well-prepared before holiday gatherings can help you cope with the stress of last minute preparation. Set aside time to plan menus and gift ideas. You can even cook some dishes together in advance and freeze them. This helps prevent the scramble to do it all at the last minute.”
If you are not able to be with your loved ones during the holidays, there are things you can do to bring them the joy of the season. Send them your annual holiday card and give them a phone call or video call to include them in celebrations. Technology has given us so many ways to connect from different places!
“Try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family,” Karla said. “Focus on the traditions that make holidays special for you. Our team is going above and beyond to make this holiday special for clients with personalized and meaningful moments. If you have holiday stress or you are not able to be with your loved ones, our Caregivers can be there to support your family. Contact Home Care Partners to discuss services!”
Legacy Retirement Communities (www.legacyretirement.com) feels similarly about the stress that comes with trying to create the ideal holiday season for your loved one.
We spoke to Renee Pickerel, Legacy Arbors executive director, about the steps one should take when making holiday plans.
“In order to enjoy the holiday season, we need to keep our expectations reasonable,” said Renee. “Our loved one may be tired and not want to participate, it may be too stressful for them, or maybe they are unable to participate in a big party and need to have a smaller get-together. Know what your loved one can manage and will enjoy, because the holidays need to be planned according to their needs and abilities. This may even bring a new holiday tradition!”
At Legacy Retirement Communities, they strive to continue holiday traditions. Activities include decorating, singing, baking, wrapping presents, having snowball fights, drinking hot cocoa, throwing holiday parties, putting up the Christmas tree, watching Christmas movies, and reminiscing.
“The best suggestion is to just enjoy the holiday season, whatever that may look like,” said Renee. “Don’t get caught up in trying to have the perfect holiday. Ask your loved one if they need help shopping, a ride to an event, baking, or wrapping gifts, for example. Make a point to check in with them often. Sometimes we get caught up in our own things and we forget about others.”
If you are able to gather with your family this holiday season, Renee also suggests having any important conversations that may be needed with your loved one. Take the time to visit with your loved one on what their wishes are in case of a major health event. Knowing now helps everyone to make decisions in a crisis situation. If you have a loved one with dementia, planning ahead is difficult because you never know what the day will bring, so having a back-up plan is essential. While these conversations may be difficult, they are important to have when family is available to weigh the options, so that your loved one’s voice is heard by all.
The holidays are often a very emotional time. As we enter yet another holiday season with the pandemic still looming, it continues to create challenges for seniors and their families as it relates to spending time together. COVID-19 has caused senior living communities around the nation to continue to be on guard 24/7. Although the precautions to fight against the virus are vital, Tabitha Nursing & Rehabilitation Center (tabitha.org) understands that it is equally important to ensure seniors remain engaged and well-connected with friends and family during this uncertain period, yet special time of year.
“Mental health concerns have been an epidemic long before COVID-19 arrived,” explained Ruthi Thompson, director of life enrichment and volunteers. “Isolation, loneliness, and depression do not just impact seniors, but all ages. The virus has just magnified these issues. We have discovered that, often, a Tabitha resident’s spouse, who still lives at home, alone, is even more impacted.”
Ruthi said that the pandemic has actually strengthened the different ways senior residents keep in touch at Tabitha. They have even hired a dedicated family engagement coordinator to oversee their Connector Program. This program works to enhance communication between each resident and their family and friends. Connectors assist residents with phone/video calls, writing cards and letters, using social media, and stopping in for visit.
Tabitha’s life enrichment teams go into overdrive during the holiday season. This year, they will put a spin on traditional events to make sure seniors continue to safely enjoy the traditions. Festivities include joyful decorations and activities, and special, individualized Christmas gifts for each resident.
“When planning your own holiday festivities, pay close attention to COVID protocols, as this is not the time to let your guard down,” said Ruthi. “Seniors who are especially vulnerable to the virus need be extra vigilant. Ensure seniors are fully vaccinated and receive their booster in a timely manner based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.”
At Tabitha, senior residents are like family, and their TEAMembers work to get to know those they care for and about. If you have a loved one spending the holidays at a senior living facility or away from the rest of the family, remember that a visit, a phone call, note, or care package can make their whole day.
Home for the Holidays
For most people, the holidays are traditionally opportunities to catch up with family they don’t see on a regular basis. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen or spent time with your aging loved one, your holiday visit could bring surprises other than the type delivered by Santa. Ashley Gloystein-Klatt, national director of marketing for Agemark Senior Living, the parent company of CountryHouse Residence for Memory Care (www.countryhouse.net), explained to us some things to pay close attention to when spending time with our loved ones this holiday.
“Watch for changes in their home environment,” advised Ashley. “Look for anything unusual in their home. Is their once-immaculate home dirtier or messier than usual? Do you notice piles of unopened mail or unpaid bills? Check to see if the heat, power, water, and major appliances are in good working condition. Check thermostats and furnace filters. If you see indicators that their home isn’t being properly managed, you may need to act. Such signs can even be early indicators of physical or cognitive challenges that mean they’re no longer in the best environment.”
Ashley also suggested watching for changes in their personal appearance that are wildly different from their norm. Signs of appearing unclean or any significant changes in appearance can be cause for concern. Changes in their ability to move, such as an unsteady gait, hunched back, or shuffling feet are also troubling signs that could mean they’re having physical challenges. Keep an eye out for strange bruises or other injuries that could indicate a recent spill or even recurring falls, or changes in weight that may require a checkup and medical intervention.
Sometimes the challenges previously mentioned may not be present, but the problem is that they’re lonely or simply unhappy in their environment. If your loved one recently lost their spouse or friends, or their support system is dwindling, the issue may be that their social needs aren’t being met. As humans, most of us crave connection with others. Relationships increase our confidence and self-esteem.
If you have noticed any of these warning signs and are worried that it is no longer safe or feasible for your loved one to live on their own, it’s time to take action. CountryHouse has three Lincoln locations, each of which is devoted exclusively to assisting those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Their communities focus on residents engaging together and sharing experiences with each other and their families. By triggering positive memories, finding common connections, and stimulating mind, body, and spirit, the most of each day is made for residents, staff, and families.
“One of our Senior Living Consultants would love to learn more about you and your loved one,” shared Ashley, “and using the information you provide, they can either point you in the direction of helpful resources or determine whether assisted living is something you should explore as an option for your loved one.”
One of the ways The Waterford Communities (thewaterford.net) spreads holiday spirit is by holding a Secret Santa event. Activity Director Kelsey Manchester of The Waterford’s College View Community shared with us that residents are filling out wish forms with their needs and wants for the holidays. When staff sign up for the Secret Santa, they receive a copy of a resident’s wish list to ensure that they are receiving thoughtful items.
“With some restrictions lifting since last year, and while still following guidelines to maintain a safe environment for the residents, we have a pretty busy December schedule ahead of us,” said Kelsey. “We are baking old family recipes that the residents are teaching us, mailing out handmade Christmas cards, listening to carolers, decorating for Christmas, and going out to see all of the lights. This will be an amazing and safe Christmas for the residents that they very much deserve after all they have gone through recently.”
Kelsey suggested including pictures in the holiday cards you are sending to your loved ones this season. Their residents not only love to receive a card in the mail, but to share them with everyone else in the community.
“If your loved one is in a senior living facility, I also recommend reaching out to staff at the facility and asking them what they believe may be a good gift for your loved one,” Kelsey said. “Staff build relationships with each resident, and they know what they are needing or what they could benefit from. This way, you can save yourself from the stress of getting them something they don’t need. The activity department here at The Waterford has also set up spending accounts for each individual resident, so families can deposit money into their loved one’s account to be used for a shopping day, lunch outing, or tickets for an activity.”
Pemberly Place (www.pemberlyplace.com) combats the loneliness that comes with the holidays by increasing activities available for residents to boost holiday spirits and spread cheer to all. They aim to incorporate things that matter personally to them and bring smiles to their faces.
“We hold many holiday-themed activities and encourage our residents to share traditions and recipes with us,” shared Pemberly Executive Director and Registered Nurse Helen Crunk. “We are also excited to be having their families back this year for our annual holiday party!”
Helen reminded us that it is crucial to plan holiday events as soon as possible for the sake of our elderly loved ones, as they do not adjust well to last-minute changes or plans. Some seniors also get overwhelmed by large groups of people, so try to spread out family visits. Not only does this allow seniors to have more individual time with their family members, but it also creates more visits for your loved one to look forward to.
“Even when family does visit often, the elderly still get lonely, especially around the holidays,” said Helen. “This is a generation that communicated with written letters and cards, so take some time to put a quick note or holiday card in the mail. This is an easy way to make their day, ease the stress and loneliness that comes with the holidays, and show them that you are thinking of them.”
Senior Memory Care
If your loved one is experiencing signs of memory loss or dementia, it may be time to find a home with dedicated memory care. Sumner Place Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation (www.sumnerplacecare.com) has specialized health care services and an emphasis on life enrichment for every single resident. We talked to Admissions and Public Relations Coordinator Megan Herter to learn more.
“We work hard to create a living environment that continuously enriches each resident’s life,” Megan told us. “Whether it’s taking a resident to a movie they want to see, organizing in-house activities or social engagements with the community, or offering daily spiritual services, at Sumner Place, we focus on personalized care. Our annual events, such as Senior Prom, Dog Pageant, or the Sumner Place Picnic, offer the ‘Family Serving Family’ feel that we are committed to. Social events and activities bring magic to ordinary days all year round. The holidays are no exception!”
During past holidays, residents of Sumner Place have celebrated the most wonderful time of the year by enjoying carols, fresh specialty coffee, and pictures with Santa and live reindeer. The staff at Sumner Place work continually to provide opportunities for special moments to their residents. Furthermore, the staff works to connect with residents on a daily basis, even through the smallest of interactions.
“Sumner Place also uses Buddies Forever, which is a comprehensive dementia program,” Megan explained. “These techniques and skills, such as getting down below eye level, using simple statements, and endorphin boosts, create a foundation for person-centered care. A program that we are also proud to be certified in is Music & Memory, which taps into the long-term memory, an area of the brain unharmed by dementia. Selecting the appropriate music for each resident triggers pleasurable emotions from their past.”
More Senior Living Options
When looking for independent senior-living options that include opportunities for engagement, check out the Lincoln Housing Authority (www.l-housing.com). They pride themselves on providing “more than housing” and nowhere is that more evident than at Burke Plaza, Crossroads House, and Mahoney Manor, where more than 270 older adults reside and have access to a wide variety of social and personal support services through the Resident Services and Congregate Housing Services programs.
The Foundation for the Resident Services Program is the Resident Services Specialist at each building. Their job is to provide general support to residents and offer a range of activities and programs to enhance the overall quality of life at each building. Activities range between pot-luck meals and garage sales to shopping trips and movie nights. They also plan and educate the tenants on the building’s emergency and urgent-response systems. The Congregate Housing Services Program (CHSP) brings the services of two full-time social workers, who share time between all buildings. These social workers are able to work with individuals who need additional supportive services such as case management, personal care, house-keeping assistance, and transportation. The CHSP also serves hot meals six days a week in the dining rooms at Burke Plaza and Mahoney Manor.
Another wonderful option for senior living in Lincoln is The Residence at Gramercy (www.theresidenceatgramercy.com), which offers independent living and assisted living services. Located on six beautiful acres of hills and walking paths, the community invites residents to enjoy comfort and relaxation while taking advantage of exceptional services. Gramercy offers residents a vibrant lifestyle that encourages health and independence through innovative recreational, educational, health, and wellness programs. Spacious apartments provide peace of mind with thoughtful safety features while also offering residents sought-after amenities and privacy. Residents can enjoy the companionship of other warmhearted, interesting people who enjoy freedom from the worries and dangers of solitary living. Someone is always at hand if help is needed. Social events let residents get to know new friends and include everything from book clubs to social hours and day trips. A holiday spent at The Residence at Gramercy offers much of the same warmth and comforts of home with the benefit of built-in community!
Pre-Planning End-of-Life Wishes
It’s never a comfortable conversation and is often overwhelming and awkward, but if you have loved ones in senior living, planning ahead for what they want when their time on earth ends is such a crucial thing to do. Wyuka Funeral Home & Cemetery (wyuka.com) is here to help you decide upon and record both your loved ones and your own end-of-life wishes. Pre-planning can help every individual make an informed and thoughtful decision about their funeral, choose sentimental things they want included, compare prices, and help your family. Wyuka offers a pre-planning checklist with all the information you need to start the process, and they’ll help walk you through the entire process.
When you or a loved one passes away, your family will be making numerous important decisions while also grieving. Pre-planning can help your family plan with ease when the time comes. Your family can confidently put a loved one’s plan into action, knowing that these were their wishes. Working with Wyuka to create a plan in advance also leaves your loved one with the peace of mind that their family has been relieved of making burdensome decisions during their time of loss. Once completed, you can rest assured that your and your loved one’s plans are in the hands of trusted individuals—without forcing anyone to make decisions in a hurried manner. You do not have to pay for a plan in advance, unless you choose to, so it’s never too soon to get started.
Whether you are with your senior loved ones in person or virtually for the holidays, it’s important to keep them included in the festivities. This is also a crucial time to ensure that your loved ones will be kept safe throughout the winter season and are prepared for the upcoming changes in weather. We recommend utilizing some of the suggestions from these local experts to keep your loved ones safe, warm, and full of holiday spirit during this season!