Fine tune the holidays for older adults

With the season of fall celebrations in full swing, there’s no better time to consider how the holidays might be impacting seniors and loved ones who are aging, ill or experiencing dementia and other diagnoses that may change the way your family’s holiday celebrations take place. Considering a senior’s specific health needs and carving out new holiday traditions can be fun for the whole family.

Focus on the spirit of the season

Thanksgiving may have gotten to be much more about the feasting than giving thanks, and Christmas has become more commercialized.  Consider the fact that as people age — and at any age — it’s important to recognize the real “reason for the season” versus the gifting and the parties. Instead of focusing on a big gathering, keep holidays celebrations small, and redirect these get-togethers more on simply spending quality time together versus big feasts, gift giving or long guest lists.

Have an attitude of gratitude

At Thanksgiving, instead of stressing out about the perfect stuffing, why not start a new tradition of having each guest or family member give thanks and share a special memory that includes the senior? This is a great way for the aging senior to feel appreciated while also reliving priceless memories.

Connect spiritually

For the those who are religious, spending the holidays with like-minded friends and relations is a wonderful way to make people of all ages feel as though they are not alone. There is spiritual strength in being together. Getting together to pray or attending a special holiday service together as a family or with a senior loved one is a wonderful, yet perfectly simply and non-stressful way to celebrate the holidays.

Make handmade cards

In lieu of gifts, having the loved one’s grandchildren make handmade cards from the heart is a great way to decorate the senior’s living space for the holidays and send messages of love from those that can’t be near during the season. No matter their age, children’s heartfelt and handwritten messages are sure to uplift spirits this season.

Take a walk

If the weather is not too brisk, and the senior is feeling up for some activity, bundle up, pour some coffee or hot chocolate into to-go mugs and head out to a neighborhood that is dedicated to “lighting up the night” with festive Christmas lighting and décor. Something as simple as viewing these beautiful and unique lighting displays, while walking arm in arm with family and loved ones makes for a very special holiday memory.

Remember that as older adults age or as dementia sufferers progress in their illness, keeping visits and experiences brief, and as non-stressful as possible is important. The fast pace of the holiday season may cause anxiety and even confusion, so try to make space for quiet times and proper rest for loved ones during the season — and all year long!

We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for their insights. During this time, and all year long, it is important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.