“A house is made by brick and mortar, but a home is made by the people who live there.” – M.K. Soni

Home for the holidays – An event so many of us plan for each season is looking very different this year. As COVID-19 continues to spread, threatening our vulnerable, senior populations the most, advisories throughout the country have been issued to avoid gatherings and to limit or completely avoid visits with our elderly loved ones. The traditional idea of going home for the holidays is simply not happening for most.

But when thinking of “home for the holidays,” it is not the building itself we envision, but the people who live there. Thanks to technology, we can virtual visit those who make a house “home.” We can call, write and even drive by and wave through the window, holding up a sign. It is not the same as going in and hugging or celebrating with our loved ones of course, but all these other options are available to us – and more needed than ever before.

An Especially Challenging Year for Seniors

This year has been a challenging one for us all, but none more than our senior population. While many of those living in assisted living facilities and independent resident communities have the activities and companionship of their neighbors, a large portion of them do not. These seniors live alone and look forward all year to the annual holiday gatherings of friends and family as a way to reconnect. Without that, and having been restricted indoors without companionship for most of the year, the toll taken on our seniors’ mental and physical health has been especially hard.

A Health and Aging poll showed that in June of this year, 56% of people over the age of 50 said they sometimes or often felt isolated from others double the 27% who felt isolated from others in a similar poll in 2018. Nearly half of those polled felt more isolated than they had just before the pandemic arrived in the United States, and a third said they felt they had less companionship than before.

Limited Interaction with Others

Social contacts suffered too, with 46% of older adults reporting in June that they infrequently interacted with friends, neighbors or family outside their household – doing so once a week or less – compared with 28% who said this in 2018.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine suggest keeping your seniors involved during these times is of vital importance. Here are some ways:

  • Think about going through old photos and memorabilia. As you do, ask about the history of each object. It can help relive times and also make new memories in the sharing.
  • Practice making a favorite recipe of from your loved-one. You can learn a new dish while sharing video of photos of the process.
  • Try a virtual sing-along.
  • Teach your senior a new technology. There are hundreds of new apps, and whether it is a fun video game, or even a new way to virtually communicate, it’s good for the brain and a great way to stay in touch.

Visiting Over the Holidays

While visiting, whether in-person or virtually be sure to take special note of any emotional or changes you may detect. Excessive sleeping, withdrawal from once-loved activities or friends may be signs of deepening depression. Likewise, physical changes such as weight loss, stained clothing or a general lack of hygiene may also be strong indicators that your loved one needs to be checked in with by a neighbor or health professional.

The holidays normally allow us to see to the physical safety of our family’s own homes as well. Whether the house is properly equipped or not to support our family member safely needs to be observed if at all possible. Transportation, grocery deliveries, laundry and other day-to-day needs can be outsourced if required, but those assessments can only be made if they are noticed; and that can only be done if you remain in communication.

This year looks unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes, but it can also be a time we draw closer together, in new and creative ways, as we all celebrate “home” for the holidays.