Family Living Focus: Aging relatives and holiday traditions

When families have aging relatives with failing physical or mental health, changes in holiday traditions are often necessary. Older adults who experience losses still need loving contact with the children in their lives, but some guidelines can help during holiday visits.

Prepare children and teens for ways in which an illness has altered their grandparent or other older relative, especially if they are visiting from a distance and have not seen each other for some time.

Explain that Grandpa has an illness that may make him repeat the same question, even after it has been answered. Advise children to encourage their grandparent to talk about things the older person finds interesting, to give the grandparent plenty of time to say things, and not to correct wrong information.

Although Grandma may enjoy being around younger people, she may have an illness or hearing loss that makes it difficult to keep up with the conversation and activities. Everything that Grandma does now takes more effort and may take a toll on patience.

The exuberance of youth can be lifting but also fatiguing. Plan activities for children away from the house, and make sure the older person has time for normal rest.

Plan interaction that is positive and is something the grandparent will enjoy.

Photos can encourage spontaneous conversations between children and grandparents.

Emphasize the importance of teens spending time with the older person while parents take care of household tasks, or vice versa.

Music often brings people together. Share recorded music (old and new), plan a sing along, or let children perform short songs. Often people who have lost much of their memory still can sing old familiar songs.

Videos (perhaps cartoon classics) might be enjoyed by all ages.

Baking projects can involve several family members. An adult or older child can mix cookies, while younger children and older adults can cut and decorate.

Touch can be the best communication. Encourage children to give frequent gentle hugs or to hold Grandma or Grandpa’s hand.


If you would like more information on “Aging Relatives and Holiday Traditions” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.