Christmas or the general holiday season is meant to be a joyous time where family and friends get together. However sometimes it can be a little stressful – particularly for some of the older generation. So rather than lose your cool or have upset ageing parents (or parents in-law), we’ve created a list of ten tips for sharing Christmas with elderly parents to make life easier for the family this holiday season, for those of us that are lucky and able to do so.
We’ve written this from the perspective that your parent is a guest rather than hosting the event, and we’ve used Christmas as the example to keep it simple, but many of these tips could translate across most events whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, a birthday party, or just a get together.
1. Ask your parent where they want to celebrate
Don’t make assumptions about what your parent wants to do this Christmas. They might not want to or be up to doing the same thing as last year. Conversely, they may want to do it all. Best to ask them how they want to celebrate i.e. do they want to host or come to your place? If coming to your place, would they like to bring a dish or are they happy for you to take care of the meal? Will they make their own way there, or do they need a lift or want to stay over?
If your parent is in an aged care facility, will you eat with them there, or can they come to your place? The situation around COVID-19 is very fluid, so best to check with the health directives in your state. Remember you generally have the right to bring your parent home for the day. If you have any issues with the facility restricting movement, you can get help from the Older Persons Advocacy Network (see details in useful links below).
2. Be patient
If Mum or Dad is taking a while to finish a story, or to move from one room to the other, just wait. Some people don’t like to be rushed.
3. Make them comfortable and make it easy for them to get around
Do they need a particular chair to sit in? Or if they are staying over, what sort of bedding or pillow do they require? A comfy chair can make a big difference to their mood, particularly during long Christmas lunches. This is true for all your guests, but especially your ageing parents. You should also consider how accessible your place is. Do you have stairs they need to navigate? Does your parent already use a mobility aid such as a walker? If not, should you consider hiring one for Christmas to make it easier for them to get around? You might want to consider hiring a ramp or mobile stair lift if it’s going to make life easier and give your parent more freedom.
4. Communicate clearly
If they are hard of hearing, speak louder, particularly if it’s a noisy place, but not so much that they feel they are being spoken down to (they’re not dumb, they just can’t hear properly). You might also want to consider background noise. While Christmas carols might make good background music, they can make it difficult to hear. We’re not saying to mute the music but you might want to think about where the speakers are in relation to your parent or anyone with trouble hearing.
5. Consider eating and dietary requirements beforehand
Mum might not be able to eat the pavlova she likes so much due to her diabetes. Or Dad might not be able to chew that turkey because his dentures are playing up. Think about serving Dad his food already cut up so he’s not embarrassed or have a low sugar version of a dessert for Mum. Also if your parent is visiting from an aged care facility, be considerate of their usual meal times. My Dad’s facility used to have lunch at 12noon, however at our Christmas lunch we wouldn’t start eating until at least 2pm. In his case, I made sure he had a significant plate of snacks or starters at 12noon so that he was eating something at his usual time without it being obvious that he was being singled out.
6. Create a quiet space
The hustle and bustle of Christmas can get a bit too much for all of us, let alone the older generation, so try and create a space where they can get away from the noise for a little while. They may even want to have an afternoon nap after lunch (one of my personal favourite things to do after a big long lunch). Also don’t get offended if they get annoyed with people, they might not be used to having so many people in the one place. You might also need to explain this behaviour to children – “Grandpa didn’t mean to be rude, he just can’t hear properly with everyone talking.”
7. Get them to share their stories
Ask your parents to share their memories of Christmas. What was it like when they were a child? Once they start talking, don’t cut them off or hurry them up. You may want to record this either with video or sound (with their permission of course).
8. Think about the table seating arrangements
You might want to have the adults at one end and the kiddy table at the other, or you might want to mix the generations up. Ask your parent where they would like to sit. You never know, they might be more interested in sitting next to 4 year old Mia to find out what she’s been up to, than sitting next to you. You should also consider if they have trouble hearing. Some people have “a good ear”, so be conscious of that without making it a big deal.
9. Have games or activities for all ages
It’s great to see multiple generations playing together so why not have some activities that they can all participate in? Card games, board games or dominos could bring the family together. But remember that sometimes older people prefer to watch than join in. Sometimes they take a while to warm up to see if they would be happy playing the game before they join in (they might also be watching to learn as they don’t want to admit they don’t know or remember how to play).
10. Remember to breathe and practice gratitude
Mum might complain that your gravy is too lumpy and not a patch on hers, or Dad might whinge about the Christmas present he got. You just need to breathe through it and remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to share Christmas with your parents – not everyone has that privilege.
Hiring mobility accessories such as walkers, canes and wheelchairs – we don’t have any specific recommendations here as there are so many. You can sometimes hire equipment from your local pharmacy, or there are lots of mobility specific companies out there such as Independent Specialists. I would suggest searching for “mobility aids for hire” in Google. Then you can see what’s available near you. Check if the equipment will fit in the car, or if you will need to get it delivered (Check if they offer that service)
Renting stair lifts – Most companies we searched for required you to purchase the lift. This company allows you to hire it – https://www.hercules.com.au/available-for-hire/
Industry code on visiting residential aged care – this outlines the rights and responsibilities https://www.cota.org.au/policy/aged-care-reform/agedcarevisitors/
Remember we all need to stay safe, but note that the code is on visiting, not leaving, and it’s a code, not the law. Your parent has the right to come and go, as the aged care facility does not have the legal right to restrict movement. This includes banning visitors, restricting visitors (beyond social distancing rules in your state), or stopping residents from leaving. Be smart, make sure if they do come to your place for Christmas, that no one is sick and you follow the health guidelines.The good news is that the revised code recognises that residents should have access to at least one visitor at all times.
Knowing your rights – The Aged Care Quality Safety Commission is the Government regulator of aged care services and its purpose is to “to protect and improve the safety, health, wellbeing and quality of life of people receiving Australian funded aged care.” The Commission has created a list of resources to help consumers know their rights during the pandemic. Please note that it hasn’t been updated since July however new resources are due as the Department of Health recently completed consumer consultations – https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/consumers/covid-19-resources#restrictions-in-residential-aged-care-your-rights
Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) – https://opan.com.au/ OPAN is a national organisation that advocates (supports or puts a case on behalf of) older people and their families. If you have any questions or concerns about visiting or access to your loved ones in aged care, OPAN might be able to help. The website has useful resources or if you want to discuss a specific issue, call OPAN on 1800 237 981,
Carers’ Circle article on how to communicate with your ageing parents – https://carerscircle.com.au/2020/12/28/how-to-better-communicate-with-our-ageing-parents/
Wishing you all a safe and happy festive season from all of us here at Carers’ Circle.
Photo credit:Christmas Joy by Olivia Fay
Please note that including links to a resource doesn’t mean that Carers’ Circle endorses the organisation or the material included.