Reducing Holiday Stress for Seniors & Caregivers


Mary Ellen’s father, Hal, suffers from dementia and his health is declining rapidly. Her husband travels often and her mother recently had knee replacement surgery and has trouble getting around. Every night after work, she drops her children off at dance, tae kwon do, or soccer, and goes over to her parents’ house to help out. Today, she realized that it is December 9 already, and she hadn’t even gotten to her Christmas list or put up her tree. When her son asked why they hadn’t baked gingerbread cookies together yet, she felt about ready to snap. Instead of enjoying the holiday season with her family, Mary Ellen wishes it were over.

For people like Mary Ellen who juggle work, family and caring for a loved one, the holidays can create a lot of extra stress. They can also be a source of stress for seniors due to travel plans, an uprooted schedule, and even seasonal depression. Instead of letting stress or the seasonal blues ruin a time meant to be enjoyed with family and friends, there are ways for seniors and their caregivers to step back and enjoy this time of year.

Below are tips for caregivers, loved ones, and seniors on lessening the stress this holiday season:

 Alter Traditions a Little
Between cleaning the house and cooking for a crowd, hosting a holiday meal can be a source of stress. If an older relative traditionally hosts Christmas dinner, consider passing the tradition on to the younger generation of family members. If the relative insists on hosting, ask younger family members in advance to help or prepare part of the meal.

Skip the Mall
Stress and safety concerns can cause the hectic nature of holiday shopping to become a real headache. Instead of braving the crowds at the local mall, brew up some tea or hot chocolate and help your elderly loved one purchase holiday gifts online or from a catalog in the comfort and safety of their home. As you browse, take the time to reminisce about favorite gifts from the past.

Decrease Gifts
For many senior citizens, 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.

Rest after Traveling
For some senior citizens, the holidays are a time to travel long distances to visit family and friends. Whether they travel by car, plane, or rail, keep in mind that an older relative might want to rest upon arrival. Offer the options of relaxing on the sofa and watching television (such as a holiday movie on the Hallmark channel) or taking a nap instead of planning a day of shopping and visiting.

Make Homes Accessible
If older relatives are visiting for the holidays, ensure your home is safe and accessible. Be mindful of tripping hazards, such as area rugs. 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 fall in the dark. Read our blog post on making homes more accessible for seniors.

Create Time for Yourself
Don’t let the holiday season planning, shopping, and stress get the best of you. Find respite care for your loved one so that you can take time and de-stress. Once you’ve created some time for yourself, have lunch with friends, read a book you’ve been hoping to read, or spend time baking with your children. The greatest gift that you can give to yourself and your loved one is your calm and centered presence. Everything else can wait!

Find Senior-Friendly Events in the Community
If you’re looking for an activity that your aging parents can participate in without the entire family, the senior center in your area may coordinate caroling, cooking or gift-wrapping events that will get your loved one out of the house and engaged in the community. It will give you, the family caregiver, some time for you!

Support your Food Bank or Local Charity
Help your loved one go through their pantry, linens and clothing in search of items that may no longer be useful (or necessary). Donate to local shelters and charities and save the receipt for taxes. It always feels good to de-clutter while helping others in need!

Make a New Year’s Resolution
As a new year approaches, create resolutions that are far more meaningful than losing weight or getting organized. Resolve to spend quality time with your aging loved ones, to bring the grandchildren for more frequent visits, or to look into home care or nursing home care — to relieve some of the caregiving responsibilities from yourself, and ensure the well-being of your aging family member(s).

If you are a family caregiver, please read our blog post about caregiver burnout and how to minimize the stresses involved with caregiving during the holidays and all year round.

At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we recognize that caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you’re a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being. Part of taking care of yourself is planning for your future and for your loved ones. Please call us at 703-691-1888, in Fairfax, at 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, or at 202-587-2797 in Washington, DC to make an appointment for a consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.