How You Can Help Seniors Facing the Christmas Holidays Alone
Dec 23, 2015
Imagine waking up alone on Christmas morning, with no one to share in the joy of the holiday with you. Imagine getting dressed the way you always do, having breakfast the way you always do, and watching TV as you always do—nothing special about this day, no grandchildren squealing with delight as they tear open parcels under the tree, no family dinner to look forward to later.
That is the scenario faced by tens of thousands of seniors who have no living family members or whose relatives live far away and can’t visit at Christmastime. These seniors may come from a variety of faiths or backgrounds, but what they have in common is an estrangement from the Christmas season, their faith traditions and all the seasonal merriment.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office show there are 586,600 older people over the age of 65 in the State. Ed Murphy, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care Ireland says, “Just under a third of older people live on their own and that number will continue to climb. Loneliness has become a chronic situation and is affecting older people’s well-being. Some seniors lack social interaction. They may not have many visitors as they have no relatives or because their families are disengaged. It is vitally important that as we age we maintain strong links with our local community. This Christmas I would encourage people to call in with seniors whom they know or suspect may not have visitors at this time. The difference you would make is immeasurable.”
Make a positive contribution this Christmas
This Christmas, you have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the lives of these seniors. Here are some ways you can make Christmas merry for them,
Problem: Family members live far away and can’t travel to visit over Christmas
Solution: Go high-tech
Help arrange a real-time video chat between the senior and his or her family members using a smartphone, tablet or computer. Software programmes like Skype and FaceTime offer free or low-cost options for video conversations.
If the video chat goes well, don’t restrict it to the Christmas holidays. Offer to facilitate regular face-to-face teleconferencing each week or month.
Problem: Isolation during the Christmas period
Solution: Take a drive
Many seniors face the challenge of being isolated throughout the year. Physical frailty and giving up the car keys can keep a senior cooped up at home. This can be especially depressing over Christmas.
You can help alleviate the senior’s isolation by taking him or her for a drive to see the Christmas lights and decorations. If the senior gets around reasonably well, take him or her to a shopping area for a cup of to sit and watch the bustle of shoppers and the beautiful decorations.
Problem: Seniors can’t share family memories because relatives are absent
Solution: Pull out the photo albums
One of the best parts of gathering with family during the Christmas holidays is sharing the “funny or poignant stories of past family events and of course photos.” When seniors have no living relatives, it means they can no longer share that story of the time the dog tipped the Christmas tree over or that time when Uncle Joe’s Santa beard fell off and revealed his identity to shocked young cousins. You can step in and act as a surrogate family member by asking to see family photos and encouraging the senior to tell you stories about the people and events pictured.
Problem: No way for a senior volunteer or support charity over Christmas
Solution: Perform acts of charity from the living room.
Many people volunteer for charity work during the Christmas period. If a senior you know was one of the people who volunteered, he or she may feel they are missing out on a key part of their traditional Christmas experience.
You can help them by participating in acts of charity right from their home. They can buy a box of Christmas cards and address them to local charities. Or they can crochet blankets for babies at the children’s hospital. When you help them perform an activity that ‘gives back’ to the community, you let them engage in a meaningful way with Christmastime and may boost their self-esteem and overall sense of well-being.
Remember your presence in a senior’s life may be the greatest gift of all—no other present necessary.