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Making The Holidays Safe & Special For Your Elder Relative

As a caregiver, how you celebrate the holidays with your senior depends a lot on your specific situation.

Carol Bradley Bursack, author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories, turned her own experience in caring for elder relatives into a well-read book and career as a freelance author and prominent consultant specializing in elder issues. Over the two decades she cared for her relatives, she helped them celebrate many Christmases, and always worked to make them feel “loved and included,” she says. And the way she celebrated with them varied, based on their individual cognitive and physical abilities as the holidays approached.

“It’s important to be constantly assessing where your elder stands — both physically and mentally — so you can plan in what ways to involve them in your holiday celebration,” she says.

If an adult is physically and mentally able, you might bring them to your home for at least part of your family’s holiday celebration. But, especially in the case of an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient, you should look for signs the elder is becoming overwhelmed.

“My father developed dementia and quickly became overwhelmed in a different environment,” says Bursack. “In cases like his, you can actually assign someone to watch over the elder and take them into a quiet room or home if necessary.”

She also says that a close assessment is needed if you’re considering flying a relative across the country to join your celebration. “These days, flying is no fun for anyone. So you have to be sure your relative is really up to the trip.”

New technology can prove a godsend when a relative isn’t up to the ordeal of flying. She points to services like Skype and Google Hangout as perfect ways to virtually bring your out-of-town relative into your celebration. “And, of course, there are all kinds of ways to share pictures and videos, which is a great way to make someone feel included.”

Memories Make the Holiday

Memories are a central part of holidays for your loved one. Whether your relative is coming to your home or you’re bringing the holiday to them, it’s important to create an atmosphere that focuses on memories of Christmases past.

“Prior to the holiday, I helped my loved ones decorate their rooms with objects that were special to them — like ornaments from our childhood,” says Bursack. “I would take them out of the boxes and show them each one. Then we would decorate together, deciding where to put these special pieces. I tried to turn it into a real ritual.”

Spreading Out the Holiday

It can be a challenge to celebrate with your elder relative, while at the same time ensuring that your own family has its own holiday celebration. “One way to do that is by spreading things out,” she suggests. “For example, when my parents were in assisted living, I would take the children to see them the day before Christmas. They would bring their musical instruments and play Christmas carols. My mom and dad loved it — and so did everyone else in the facility. Then we would spend Christmas at home, and I’d go back to see my parents the day after Christmas, turning that into another holiday. It was a special time for them, but my children also had their own family celebration.”

“It’s all about finding the right balance, making sure your elders are safe, while at the same time making the holidays a time of celebration.”

To take advantage of a special offer and learn more on how Philips Lifeline can help your loved one live independently while giving you peace of mind this holiday season, click here.