We all know that the holiday season is a time for the whole family but around the country, there are still tens of thousands of seniors who spend this time of celebration on their own. Sometimes this may be due to family issues, but more often than not it’s because of the distance between family members or because other family members are spending the holiday season elsewhere. Isolation and loneliness are massively unreported issues among the elderly in America, and these problems are often worsened during the holiday season.

Visiting my great uncle Eric

When I was younger, my parents would always make the effort to visit my great uncle Eric who lived in Grove City on the other side of the state. Uncle Eric suffered from late-stage dementia and would often not recognize anyone in the family. Yet, my parents would still bring him a tree every year, decorate his apartment, and make him a traditional Christmas meal which we would all sit down to eat. I couldn’t understand why they went to all this effort when it was clear that he didn’t really know that it was the holiday season, and certainly wouldn’t remember the experience! But since then I’ve realized that it’s about much more than that because, for those few moments when the confusion of dementia would lift and he’d recognize us, he knew that he wasn’t alone at Christmas and it meant the world to him.

Caregivers during the holiday season

The role that caregivers provide during the holiday season is crucial for ensuring that the elderly are included and don’t suffer from loneliness at the time of year that’s all about coming together. Uncle Eric was always attended to by his caregiver called Karen. Without Karen, my parents wouldn’t have been able to cook the Christmas meal, decorate the tree and house, and organize a perfect Christmas for the family. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of a sacrifice she was making by spending Christmas day with us, and although it was her job, it was still a huge commitment to the profession and highlighted just how dedicated she was to her work. It’s made me realize just how vital caregivers are in ensuring that the holiday season is enjoyed by everyone, not just the young and able.

The fight against loneliness and isolation

Uncle Eric passed away peacefully in his sleep, but he was fortunate enough to have never spent the holidays alone. For many others, this is not the case. Celebrating with your elderly family members or neighbors is important because it gives them a sense of belonging, eases feelings of isolation which can often lead to depression, and reinforces the need for future generations to include the elderly in their celebrations too. I’m older and (hopefully) wiser now, but there’s no chance that I will ever let one of my elderly family members spend the holiday season alone – even if it means driving across the whole state, or even the whole country for that matter! I will always make sure that no one in my family is lonely at the most important time of the year!