Your Elderly Parent and the Holidays — Tips on making the holiday enjoyable for all

By: Debra R. Drelich, LMSW, ACSW, CMC


Holidays can be stressful at the best of times for families, and for an elderly person who is away from their familiar surroundings, even more so.

This is compounded by their missing deceased spouses or other loved ones, especially during holiday gatherings.  Fortunately, with some sensitivity and ingenuity, you can enable your loved to have the best possible holiday experience. Do take into account that crowded family celebrations may be over stimulating for them, especially if your relative has become frail, or suffers from memory loss.  Perhaps a smaller, more intimate gathering of family and friends may afford greater comfort and participation.  Consider the following suggestions:

Before the visit:

•Speak to your loved one prior to the visit- if they are concerned about sleeping out of their own home, perhaps a shorter visit can be arranged.

•Whenever possible, gatherings should begin during hours that your loved one is more awake.

•  Try to ensure that foods are served that can meet their special dietary needs (for example- low sodium , low fat and low sugar, not heavily spiced)- after all, the last thing you would want is 90 year old Aunt Sue to become ill while visiting.

•Make sure you have an updated list of their physician’s contact info, and current medications before they arrive.

•Prep your children on ways they can help their older relatives to navigate safely in your home


Prior to their visit, these simple home modifications will make your loved one feel safer and more comfortable in your home:

•Roll up small rugs that may pose a tripping hazard during their visit and look for loose electrical cords that may pose a tripping hazard and tuck them safely away.

•Insert small lights near their bed, along the path from their room to the bathroom and in the bathroom to enable them to safely get around at night.

•Place a non-slip mat both inside and outside the bath tub or shower, and purchase a removable  suction grab bar for the bathtub or stall shower they will be using.  Purchase a removable raised toilet seat for the primary bathroom they will be using,


During the holiday visit:

•Place your elder in a position where they will be able to see and hear the activities and discussions- it is hard for a person who is hearing impaired to follow the discussion during the meal if there is a lot of noise all around.

•Try to elicit memories of holiday celebrations from the past by pulling out old photo albums and discussing. Many people with memory loss can recall in great detail memories from the distant past.  Photographs are also encourage discussion and stories about relatives who the younger family members may not remember or ever have met.  Another fun discussion for the younger and older family members would be to compare holiday preparations today with preparation years ago without refrigerators, dishwashers and supermarkets!

•Offer suggestions to both your children and older relatives about activities they can share- for example: cards, Rummy O, Scrabble, reading books and going out together for a stroll.

•To encourage their independence, make sure they are familiar with the kitchen and can easily locate beverages and snacks. Think of small tasks they can assist with for the holiday preparations- this may include setting the table, cutting fruits or vegetables or sharing a special recipe. This may make your relative feel like they are ‘contributing’.


Despite the fact that holiday visits may highlight your loved ones’ deficits, family gatherings should focus upon creating new and wonderful memories for both young and old.  Use the visit to observe your elder’s changing needs, and save any serious conversations about their condition for after the holiday celebration.  Fortunately, with some sensitivity and ingenuity, you can ensure that your loved one will have the best possible holiday experience.



•Debra Drelich, is a Geriatric Care Manager who practices in Riverdale, Manhattan and Westchester.  She serves as the President of the Greater NY Chapter of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.  She can be reached via her