Nothing is more heart-wrenching than knowing about a senior who is all alone at the holidays, either because the senior has no living relatives, or their family members live far away and can’t visit. Those of us who work in the senior industry do our best around the holidays to allay this isolation by holding special events and celebrations for seniors in our senior living facilities and at community centers and so forth.
But there are so many that are not touched in this way. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, as many as half of all long-term care residents have no living relations. Of those who do have family, around 60 percent of them never receive a visitor. Keep in mind, that’s seniors living in a senior living community and doesn’t account for those living in their own homes.
We all have an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the lives of these forgotten seniors. The following are some ideas you can share.
Help the seniors communicate with their family – Help arrange a real-time video chat between the senior and his or her family members Skype or FaceTime. They may not have this technology, so if you do for them, it will be appreciated. If the video chat goes well, don’t restrict it to the holidays. Offer to facilitate regular face-to-face teleconferencing each week or month.
Listen to them – Whether you’re a neighbor, a caregiver, or a family member, take time to talk to the senior. Show interest by asking questions and showing compassion. You may even encourage them to show you their old photo albums.
Be a Santa to a senior – There’s a program called “Be a Santa to a Senior®” sponsored by Home Instead Senior Care®, which lets you give gifts to seniors. You can submit the senior’s information to a local participating Home Instead Senior Care office and allow him or her to be surprised with a personally delivered present. You can also take an ornament off the giving tree yourself to provide a gift for a lonely senior. If your area doesn’t have this program, look for similar opportunities through retailers and faith communities.
Have a senior as a guest at your gathering – If you are having a big family dinner for the holidays, invite a senior as well.
Call their friends to join a celebration – If you know that a senior has some friends that they don’t meet often because of distance or poor health, the holidays are a great time to arrange their meeting. You can organize a surprise party and prepare some special dinner for them. Make the table look festive.
Take a drive – Take a senior for a ride to view holiday lights and decorations. Or, if the senior gets around reasonably well, take him or her to the food court at the mall to sit and view the bustle of shoppers and the beautiful decorations.
Perform acts of charity from the living room – Many people volunteer for charity work during the holidays. If a senior now can’t do that kind of work, they may feel they are missing out on a traditional holiday experience. Help them by participating in acts of charity right from their residence. They can buy a box of holiday cards and address them to troops stationed overseas. Or they can crochet blankets for babies at the children’s hospital. This type of “giving back” can boost their self-esteem and overall sense of well-being.