how to make the holidays special for your elderly loved ones

How to Make the Holidays Special for your Elderly Loved Ones

Holidays are a wonderful time for families and friends to come together. But often we focus on the young.  Don’t forget to make the holidays special for your elderly loved ones too.  There are many ways to include seniors during the holidays!

Plan in advance and consider their health conditions and living arrangements as you seek ways to involve them.  Get creative and make sure it’s something that works with their personality and preferences.  Think… Presence not Presents. Giving a senior your time, attention and love is the best holiday gift of all.

Presence not Presents. Giving a senior your time, attention and love is the best holiday gift of all.

“Seniors who are dealing with mobility issues, who live alone, or who are suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, or depression, may begin to feel isolated during the holidays. The holidays also bring a change of routine and potentially strenuous travel, which can be difficult for seniors.” according to

A few Holiday Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Don’t assume your loved one wants to participate in everything. Ask how they want to spend the holiday.  What do they like about the holiday?  What don’t they like or would prefer not to do?  Maybe they want to go to church on Christmas eve but Midnight Mass is too late. See if there is an earlier church service or another alternative. 
  • Do pace yourself and your elderly loved ones.  They may not have the stamina or mobility they had in the past.  Instead of a day of shopping, plan a morning or couple of hours and then have lunch together. 
  • Do include them in the meal and holiday planning. But don’t expect them to prepare and host a meal for the entire family.  Plan a potluck with everyone bringing a dish.  Talk about who is doing what so no one ends up overwhelmed. 
  • Do ask them if they feel like making one of their signature dishes.  My mother makes fabulous Pecan Rolls and they are a Christmas morning tradition. You can also ask your loved one to teach you how to make these family favorites so you can help carry on the tradition. 
  • Don’t have crucial conversations about finances, estates or wills at this time.  If your family needs to have these conversations, plan a time in January or February.  It’s easy to think you’ll have these conversations when everyone is together.  Don’t Do It!  Keep the holidays focused on family and enjoying each other’s company. 
  • Do build in downtime.  Not just for your elderly loved ones, but you and your children can benefit from chilling and watching a movie, taking a nap or reading a book.  Or just staring out the window at the snow falling and sipping a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Don’t expect everyone to be happy all the time.  Something completely unrelated can make a family member sad or trigger thoughts of a loved one who is no longer with us.  Ask if they want to talk about their sadness or if they just want a hug.  A hug goes a long way.

Making the Holidays Special for Your Elderly Loved Ones!

Here are a few ideas to help make the holidays special for your elderly family and friends:

Elderly parents living with you

  1. Ask for their help.  Can they wrap presents or bake cookies?  Can they help with some of the holiday shopping? Look for small, meaningful tasks that aren’t overwhelming.
Grandma helping wrap Christmas Presents for the Holiday Elf project.
Wrapping Holiday Elf Gifts for Service Member Children
  1. What is their favorite holiday tradition?  Incorporate it into your celebrations.
  2. Play Christmas music.  It gets everyone in the mood.  😊 Who can’t be happy listening to Dean Martin sing Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!?
  3. Make a Christmas playlist on Spotify and ask each family member for their top 3 Christmas songs.  Then play your customized playlist and everyone will hear their favorites.  Do You Hear What I Hear is one of my favorites! 
  4. Help them with their holiday cards.  Plan an afternoon or evening to help them write a Christmas letter or address and stamp cards.  Don’t forget that this is a bittersweet time of year.  Your loved one may not be receiving all happy news from their friends (a friend’s spouse passed away or is ill).  They might want to talk about their memories or fears.

Elderly loved ones living near by

Christmas decorations and lights at Hiwan Country Club.
  1. Plan an outing to the ballet (My mom’s favorite is the Nutcracker Ballet), a movie, a concert or a play. Get dressed up.  Our parents were raised in a time when they dressed up for special occasions and outings.
  2. Go out for brunch or tea.  Last year we went to tea at the Brown Palace in Denver.  We couldn’t get reservations until January, but it gave us all something to look forward to and kept the holiday spirit going.
  3. Help them decorate for the holidays.  Due to mobility issues, it may be difficult for your mom or dad to put up decorations.  Ask them about their favorite decorations.  Put their favorite decorations where they can be seen often.
  4. Watch their favorite Christmas movie.  Let them pick.  Netflix and Amazon Prime have several of the old favorites like White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life and my dad’s favorite… A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Make hot chocolate or eggnog, pop some popcorn and enjoy! Ask them to tell you about the first time they saw the movie.
  5. Encourage their participation in church activities, choir or a musical group.  If you can participate with them all the better.  But if not, ask if they need a ride or help arrange rides so they can participate. 
  6. Invite them to attend their grandchildren’s Christmas pageant, recital or concert.  There is a special bond between grandchild and grandparent.

Elderly loved ones living far away

Christmas flowers can brighten any room.  You're senior loved ones will love this holiday gift
  1. How will your loved one be spending the holiday?  If they are in assisted living, call to find out what activities are going on or ask the facility manager to email you the schedule.  Then you can remind your loved one to attend the activities and talk about them afterwards. 
  2. If your loved one is living on their own, ask how they will spend the holiday.  Don’t assume that they have someone to spend it with.  Maybe they can invite some friends to their place and host a small gathering. 
  3. Visit them.  If you can’t visit during the holidays, can you visit before or after the holidays?  Your loved one will enjoy and value your time and attention and can look forward to your visit. 
  4. Set up a time to call, facetime or skype with them.  Let them know you are thinking of them.
  5. Send mini gifts leading up to the holidays.  Give them some new, holiday dish towels or hand towels.  It will make the kitchen and bathroom festive! Send flowers or a table center piece to brighten up their living space.

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, check out these tips for holiday activities

Visiting Grandma at Christmas.

Also, don’t be too hard on yourself.  There is a lot going on, emotions run high and you’re probably balancing your family along with siblings and your parents.  Be gentle and kind to yourself. 

Related Post: 50+ Unique Gift Ideas for the Children in your Life

How do you make the holidays special for your elderly loved ones? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share a comment below.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!


2 thoughts on “How to Make the Holidays Special for your Elderly Loved Ones”

  1. This is a very thoughtful and informative post. I live far from my family and appreciate all my siblings and extended family do for my 96-year-old mother. I will share this and remember your suggestions when I do visit. Thank you.

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