While the holidays are a time of gatherings with family and friends, they can also be a source of stress, as exercise schedules might be disrupted for shopping excursions and rich holiday meals make it difficult to adhere to a particular diet. Staying healthy can be a challenge during this time of year, especially for seniors. Get a senior’s caregiver involved to help manage expectations at this time of year.
According to Amy Fuchs, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of The Elder Expert, LLC in Saddle River, New Jersey, one of the difficulties of the holiday season is not knowing an elderly relative’s limits. “You can anticipate that they might need help, but they might not express to you that they’ve slowed down,” Fuchs says.
Robyn Golden, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the health and aging department at Rush University in Chicago, agrees. “Offer older relatives options and ask them what they want to do, but don’t assume their limitations,” she advises.
To help seniors stay healthy during the holidays, reduce their stress and avoid the holiday blues, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Make healthy choices
From rich meals to tempting and tasty homemade snacks, the holidays are a time for many to indulge in food — or overindulge. Try to plan meals with other events in mind.
For example, if a big dinner is planned for New Year’s Eve, consider serving a lighter lunch of salad or soup. “You don’t want to deny anyone of the food they like to eat at this time of year, but you don’t want anyone to gorge themselves, either,” Fuchs says.
2. Stay hydrated
Drinking water is one way you can stay healthy during the holidays. “Senior citizens, especially, need to drink plenty of fluids, as not drinking enough water could cause hospitalization,” Fuchs says. To make it easier to stay hydrated, have water easily accessible at home and keep bottled water in a purse or bag when running errands.
3. Follow dietary restrictions
Some seniors must follow special diets, such as one that is low in sodium. It can be difficult to adhere to a diet during busy, stressful times, especially if there aren’t any healthy options available. “When people get stressed, they tend to overeat and don’t stick to their diets,” Golden says. To make it easier to follow dietary guidelines, keep healthy options like fresh-cut vegetables and fruit on hand.
4. Drink in moderation
“Drinking too much can impair functions, and for some senior citizens, drinking alcohol with certain medications can have adverse side effects,” Golden says. Consider offering fun, alcohol-free drinks so everyone can celebrate the holidays.
5. Keep exercising
In many parts of the country, the holidays are synonymous with cold weather and snow. To stick to an exercise schedule, bundle up and invite your parents for a walk around the block if the sidewalks are dry. If it’s snowing or icy outside, drive to an indoor shopping mall and walk a few laps while window-shopping.
6. Shake up traditions
Between cleaning the house and cooking for a crowd, hosting a big holiday meal can be a source of stress. If an older relative traditionally hosts a big holiday meal, consider passing the tradition on to the younger generation of family members. If the relative insists on hosting, Fuchs recommends younger family members volunteer to clean or prepare part of the meal.
7. Decrease gifts
For many seniors, especially those on a fixed income, the holidays can be a financial challenge due to purchasing gifts for many family members. To reduce stress from paying for gifts, consider having a family grab bag, where everyone contributes one gift.
8. Rest after traveling
For some seniors, the holidays are a time to travel long distances to visit family and friends. Whether they travel by car, rail or plane, keep in mind that an older relative might want to rest upon arrival. Golden suggests offering the options of watching television or taking a nap instead of planning a day of shopping and visiting.
9. Make homes accessible
If older relatives are visiting your home for the holidays, ensure your home is safe and accessible. “Be mindful of hazards in your home. For instance, someone with a cane could trip over area rugs,” Fuchs advises. Consider having your relative sleep on the first floor of your home. If that’s not possible, let them stay in a room close to the bathroom. In addition, use nightlights in the hallway so they don’t stumble in the dark.
10. Take breaks
Between parties and shopping, the holidays often involve busy days and late nights. If you are planning an all-day outing, carve some time for a nap or a way to relax for a bit, even if it is just to sip tea in a cafe. Little kids, seniors and everyone in between will appreciate it.
11. Stay involved
Recognize that seniors still want to feel that they are part of the holidays. For many, that may include helping out with holiday preparations. “It’s fine to reduce senior citizens’ stress by offering to hold the holiday event at your home instead of theirs, but still keep them involved by having them cook a favorite dish or maybe help decorate the home,” Golden says.
With a few preventative measures and a willingness to change some traditions, seniors can stay healthy and follow their diets, while also having fun with their family members this holiday season.
Megan Horst-Hatch is a Chicago-based mother, runner, baker, gardener, knitter and other words that end in “-er.” Her work can be found here.