Families Should Modify Holiday Celebrations to Accommodate Seniors

Tips for making the holidays enjoyable for older adults. Photo by: Mike RhodesTips for making the holidays enjoyable for older adults. Photo by: Mike Rhodes

By: Marc Ransford—

The holidays are usually a joyous time for families, but many functions should be modified for aging relatives, says Kathy Segrist, a Ball State gerontologist.

As some people grow older, they may lose the physical or cognitive capacity to trim a tree, bake a cake or spend time outdoors singing carols. Others may find themselves spending their first holiday season away from home in an assisted living facility. Some may have recently lost a close friend or loved one.

“The holidays are a time when families come together to celebrate,” says Segrist, who retired from Ball State’s Fisher Institute for Wellness and Gerontology. “However, there comes a time when older adults may not be able to do all the things they once could. At this point, family members and friends can find ways to include older adults in these traditions or start new ones.”

Her tips for making the holidays enjoyable for older adults include:

  • Invite seniors to the majority of events but tailor the level of their participation to their physical abilities.
  • Keep lines of communication open by encouraging an older adult to use email, texting and social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Skype. Computers and smartphones make communication easier and cheaper. The main barrier is the reluctance of older adults to try something new.
  • Consider the nutritional and physical needs of older adults when planning dinners and other activities.
  • Ask older adults for input when planning activities.
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest information regarding health topics of concern to seniors.
  • When a family member can no longer live in his or her own home, consider nursing homes that embrace the Eden Alternative. These long-term care facilities foster a family atmosphere with the inclusion of pets, plants and children.

Segrist also encourages families to include older relatives in events throughout the year.


(Editor’s note: The photo for this story was taken in Kansas City, KS when my grandfather visited for the holidays. He is pictured on the far right. At the time, he lived in Miami, FL. He was not at all accustomed to the cold winter weather in Kansas. He really struggled with the temperature change. We did all we could to keep him warm, but the temperature change was very difficult for him. We learned to better anticipate his climate-related needs after his first holiday visit.)