Lighten the Load—Help an Older Relative Fight the Holiday Blues

Photo of elderly woman sitting down to Christmas dinner.


Golden Valley Homes


Many people are filled with joyful anticipation and festive good cheer right now. But some are apprehensive and may also experience heightened feelings of loneliness as Christmas approaches. Or perhaps they feel empty inside.

This type of reaction is commonly referred to as the holiday blues.

Older adults are particularly susceptible because they’re more likely to experience losses, such as a spouse or other companion, a long-time home, financial security, health and physical functioning and the independence associated with it. As a result, they’re not able to celebrate the holidays the way they always have.

Feelings of grief may include sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety, or guilt—emotions that sap energy and create stress.

Fortunately, relatives can do many things to help seniors in this situation experience enjoyment during the holiday season.

If you have a family member who is widowed or living with illness or disability, read on for some ways to lift their spirits and lighten their load.

Addressing Stress

Bake extra holiday treats to share with your relative.

Offer to help decorate, wrap gifts, address greeting cards and take them to the post office or perform other holiday-related tasks.

Take your relative out to the mall for gift shopping and lunch. Arrange accessible transportation if necessary.

Let them know when you are heading out to the grocery store or on other errands, and ask what you can drop off or pick up to make things easier.

If they don’t drive, offer transportation, so they can get to a hair appointment, do banking or attend a holiday event.

Giving Gifts

Resist the urge to go overboard with gifting, so your relative doesn’t feel the need to reciprocate. If the two of you are part of a large extended family, suggest a new tradition of drawing names, giving family presents instead of individual gifts, or buying only for the children.

Ask, rather than guess, what kind of gifts your relative would prefer. Practical presents, such as grocery store or pharmacy gift cards, toiletries, clothing, home safety equipment, and adaptive aids, may be most appreciated.

Consider, too, gifts of time and talent. Create a book of IOUs for home-cooked meals, baked goods, household chores or repairs, yard work, chauffeuring, running errands, or teaching a skill such as computers.

If your relative doesn’t need anything, give a charitable gift in their name. Knowing someone in need is being helped may give them some satisfaction.

Planning Ahead

Be prepared to modify or forego traditions that aren’t practical for your relative, such as a late-night gathering or an event at their home. It may be time to start a new ritual. Brainstorm ideas with other family members.

Be sensitive to your relative’s healthcare needs when considering the time period for a family event. Before deciding on a venue, determine their environmental needs, addressing accessibility and safety issues.

When you extend an invitation, do so with the understanding that your relative may back out if they don’t feel up to the occasion. Encourage them to take things one day at a time and to ensure plenty of time for self-care.

Stay Connected

Here are some ideas for spending quality time together and creating lasting memories.

Invite your relative over for a baking or tree decorating party or to watch a favorite holiday movie.

Invite them to your children’s or grandchildren’s school Christmas pageant or holiday recital, and provide transportation.

Take them out to a concert or theater production. Or go on a holiday light tour, followed by dessert at a restaurant.

Invite them to share recipes for special dishes or sweets. Offer to coordinate a cooking or baking demonstration. Even if they’re not physically able to participate, they can still provide instruction and supervision.

If applicable, ask your relative to join your family in attending a worship service. Invite them to sleep over, so they can be part of the Christmas morning excitement in your household.

Encourage them to reminisce about holidays from their youth, including family customs, special people and places, memorable gifts, and touching or humorous moments. MSN

Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior concerns. She has personal experience with elder care.

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