Newswise — For so many of us, the holidays are a time to be with our families. When it comes to families, one size does not fit all – many families include elderly grandparents and even great-grandparents. In our multicultural society families have many faces depending on religion, culture, country of origin, level of integration into Canadian society, whether they are intact or divorced as well as many other diversities. Older adults are not a homogeneous group, just as all teenagers are not the same; both groups vary in many ways and understanding these differences is important. Below are some tips for including older adults in your festive celebrations.
1. Some older adults may need to be picked up and brought to your home. Grandchildren recently licensed are often very willing to pick up family members. This intergenerational activity can be a quiet opportunity for connecting, bonding and sharing.
2. Be aware of any physical challenges that family members may have, such as hearing loss. Attempt to sit someone close to them at the dinner table who could repeat parts of the conversations or respond to other needs.
3. There are times at family occasions when older relatives and friends appear not to be part of conversations. Being sensitive to this and where appropriate, asking grandparents and other older adults about their life experiences can make them feel included.
4. Another way of engaging older members of the family at festive celebrations is to bring out old photograph albums of the elder’s generation. Your older relatives may be able and very willing to fill everyone in on the names of the people, times, events and locations captured in photographs that others have either forgotten or never known.
5. Some older adults are strongly independent and are uncomfortable when their adult children want to “parent” them. Other older adults because of health, financial or other life events have many dependency needs and look to adult children, relatives or community services for support. Being sensitive to these situations will allow you to communicate more effectively with older family members and allow everyone to enjoy their time together.
6. Conversations about social networking and the newest electronic technologies may dominate family gatherings, particularly those with many young adults. This can be alienating for older adults but it could also be an opportunity for them to learn about a new communication channel. The younger person could ask their older relatives if they would like to see the pictures that their new cell phone can take and show them the photos that she or he had just taken of everyone at the table. This may encourage the elders to ask more questions, drawing them into the conversation. 7. Some older members of the family may be living in long term care facilities. When visiting during the festive season bring young children and maybe the beloved family cat or dog, if the care facility encourages this. This is an amazing way of setting the scene for a very successful visit and is bound to engage your relative. Bring familiar foods from your family’s traditions and decorate a small area of their room with familiar decorations such as items from celebration in years gone by.
For more holiday tips, please visit Ryerson University's Holiday Media Room at http://www.ryerson.ca/news/media/spotlight/holiday2010/
FACULTY EXPERT AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWRheta Rosen Ph.DCoordinator Interpersonal Skills Teaching CentreRyerson University