Blog Home > Blog > Navigating the Holidays with your Elderly or Sick family members

The holidays are a time for festivity, joy, and family. But for many families this holiday season, this festivity will be entangled with a new set of challenges. In addition to the pandemic and fears around virus spread, there are many families who are trying to stay connected and share this season with an aging or ailing loved one. The forced isolation through the entire year has been one of the greatest challenges for the elderly and sick, and this issue will only be compounded as the holidays come along. If you’re caring for or catering to someone with a debilitating condition (age related or otherwise) this holiday season, here are some activities and ideas to keep them safe, engaged, and entertained.

Consider Staying Home

The first thing we want to clarify is there is no such thing as a risk-free holiday gathering this year. The possibility for COVID to spread and infect even an intimate gathering is a very real threat. We’ll give some ideas for activities that reduce the risk spread while gathering, but there will still be a risk.

Consider first whether it’s worth it to stay home this year. This may be the most loving choice you make for your aging or ailing loved one this holiday season. In this article, we will provide ideas to engage the loved one in your care in holiday activities whether you’re celebrating in an intimate gathering or from home.

If you’re planning to gather:

  • Stay outdoors. Gatherings in outdoor spaces have a far lower risk of transmission than gatherings indoors.
  • Keep it small. Small gatherings are preferable not only to reduce the risk of COVID, but also to reduce the possibility of overwhelming your loved one with too much stimulation.
  • Schedule gatherings based on their best time of day. Where possible, plan gatherings, activities, and events around the time of day that your loved one is most alert and active. 
  • Encourage one on one interaction. Offer your loved one a quiet and comfortable place to sit and rest and encourage guests to interact with him/her one on one to reduce the risk of overstimulation.
  • Talk to any children that may interact with your loved one. If there are children that will be engaging with your loved one, have a conversation with them ahead of time. Let them calmly know about any behaviors that have the potential to frighten them or catch them off guard and calmly answer any questions they have. If their grandfather has trouble hearing, for example, explaining this will help them interact with him in a loving and positive way. 
  • Set ground rules ahead of time. Let family and friends you’ll see know what to expect from you ahead of time (how long you’ll stay, how many people you’re comfortable having around, if you need people to wear masks, etc.)

For holiday celebrations at home:

  • Organize virtual activities with family and friends. Coordinate virtual gatherings over phone or video chat. These can be informal virtual chats or a more formal coordinated activity, like cooking together, coordinating a group meal time over video, or simultaneously watching a football game.
  • Plan activities based on what your loved one already enjoys. If they love to bake, have a holiday baking day. You can invite others to contribute and host a remote cookie exchange (coordinate delivery between the other participants). If they love to sing or enjoy music, stream some holiday music or concerts to enjoy from YouTube. If sports are more their thing, offer to watch a game with them.
  • Avoid dietary shock. In aging or ailing adults, their stomach may be sensitive. Keep uncommon and festive foods to a minimum to avoid distress. It’s also wise to watch out for alcohol intake (above any normal amounts) as it may interact with their ailment or medications in a negative way.
  • Drive them around to look at holiday lights. Find a local neighborhood that goes all-out for Christmas near you and drive through it. You can pack cocoa, listen to Christmas music, and enjoy the magical display of lights while safely isolated in your car.
  • Host a drive by gift exchange. Offer a gift exchange drive-by with friends and family so your loved one can see and interact with the people who love them, give and receive gifts as normal, and remain safe at a distance.
  • Take care of yourself too. As a caregiver, you matter too. Don’t forget to take a break, enjoy a holiday treat, or allow yourself time to focus on your care, wants, and needs this holiday season. 

Closing Thoughts

Caregiving during the holiday in any year isn’t easy. Add a pandemic to the already stressful mix and you may start to feel understandably overwhelmed. Don’t forget to take a deep breath, set boundaries, and take care of yourself too.

As a caregiver, you’re faced with new challenges every day. The California Caregiver Resource Centers were created with you both in mind and at heart to be a free resource as you navigate the challenging role you’re in. We would love to connect you with your local Center, who can talk more about local programs for caregivers and how they can best support you.

Share this post: