No other time of year brings families together like the holidays. For many, the season kicks off with Thanksgiving, with the traditional Thanksgiving Day celebration often including a houseful of family members spanning generations. We relish the quality time and togetherness.

For seniors, however, this time of year can bring on mixed emotions. An AARP study shows that holiday nostalgia can turn to loneliness, as many seniors are reminded of a lost spouse, relative or close friend. Further, the realization they’re unable to contribute or participate as fully as they once did can lead to a feeling of isolation or depression.

This article will offer tips for making Thanksgiving dinner and the holiday season special for all, including elderly loved ones.

If your loved one will be present at your Thanksgiving meal

This is what the holidays are about: family members of all ages spending time together and giving thanks for what they have, including each other. Here are a few Thanksgiving activity ideas to engage your older loved one at your event.

  • Assign jobs. Even if your loved one is physically limited, there are necessary tasks they can surely handle. Steer clear of lifting (water pitchers or heavy food bowls). Consider jobs like assigning seats, placing silverware or other light tableware.
  • Favorite dishes. If there’s a favorite family recipe, ask your loved one to make it. If they no longer enjoy cooking, maybe they can bring a flower arrangement. Whatever the contribution – large or small – receive it with appreciation.
  • Mingle the generations. Create some productive downtime for kids by facilitating intergenerational moments. Grandparents and great-grandparents are rich with family history. Ask older relatives to tell stories.
  • Games and crafts. Get out the bingo cards and ask your older mom or dad to be the caller. Put them in charge of a mini art class with kids. Construction paper and markers are the makings of hand-turkeys that can be turned into a child’s card to their loved ones.

Remember, Thanksgiving is about inclusion. Serving a spectacular meal is, well, gravy.

If your loved one cannot come to the family festivities

According to a 2020 study, about half of Americans ages 70 and older said they wouldn’t see family during the holiday season. While this is unfortunate and can result in loneliness or depression, there are ways to make the Thanksgiving holiday (or any day) special for your older loved one.

  • Plan a phone call. Schedule it ahead of time to give everyone something to look forward to. Also, set aside plenty of time. Be prepared to carry the conversation or be a good listener. You know your loved one best, so indulge their conversational style.
  • Video chat. If you and your loved one are both able, a video chat takes remote conversation to an even more intimate level. Gather kids around the screen so your parent or grandparent can see everyone. Seniors Guide recommends several chat apps for seniors.
  • Visit. If your loved one can’t come to you, going to them is the best alternative to hosting them for the holidays. Plan to spend enough time so that there’s no rush.

According to the AARP study, two-thirds of adults feel happy just thinking about spending time with family. Clearly, this is time well-spent for all.

Happy Thanksgiving to your family – from ours.

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