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Breaking the Ice Between the Generations at Holiday Gatherings

We’ve learned so much of late about the value of intergenerational connections for older adults. Spending time with younger people provides a real mood boost for most seniors. Talking to children about the old days, offering advice, and sharing a legacy of their own history enhances a senior’s sense of purpose, which is a core element of emotional health in our later years.
Unfortunately, our society is more segregated by age these days. So holiday visits that include younger family members are a precious opportunity for the oldest family members to share time with the younger generation. Yet, especially if they are visiting from out of town, children may be unsure of how to interact with senior relatives.
Here are five tips to help the generations spend meaningful time together during this special time of year.
If your loved one has health challenges, talk to children ahead of time. Children sometimes fear what they don’t understand. Provide information ahead of the gathering that is appropriate for the child’s age, with explanations such as: “Aunt Katherine sometimes forgets things, but she loves to hear about your swim team! She was quite a good swimmer when she was your age!” Enlist the child’s help: “Grandpa is so excited to see you again, but he can’t hear you unless you are close to him. Let’s figure out a good place for him to sit at the table.” (It may also be helpful to provide a “who’s who” reminder for older guests about the identities of young people at the gathering.)
Schedule a team project. Promote intergenerational bonding by having older and younger relatives collaborate on holiday tasks. Ask a grandchild to assist Grandma in making her traditional cranberry salad. Have children and their great-grandmother create a centerpiece around the heirloom vase she received as a wedding gift. Let Grandpa help teens with those “some assembly required” holiday gifts for smaller children.
Bring out the photo albums. Holiday get-togethers are a great time for family and friends to share recollections with the younger generation. Grandparents’ life experiences bring to life events students have learned about in history class. And most kids love to hear tales of their parents’ youthful escapades—did Grandpa really turn over the outhouse as a Halloween prank? Is that Mom in that picture with the big hair and cheerleading outfit? Tech-savvy young family members could work with grandparents to create a digital family album, complete with names and information that future generations will appreciate.
Mind the technology gap. Many seniors are quite at home with computers, smartphones, social networking and the like. But others are not, and they may feel left out if the conversation revolves around Facebook, computer games and the latest smartphone acquisition. Encourage young guests to demonstrate their gadgets to elderly relatives. Take a photo of grandparent and grandchild, and send it to another phone. Bring up a YouTube video of a child’s school concert. Maybe Grandma can be convinced to set up a Facebook account? In any case, to avoid the annoyance of “phubbing”—a word recently coined that means “phone snubbing”—consider establishing a no-texting zone once the turkey carving begins. The young folks will survive having their devices powered off for a few hours.
Help your home accommodate senior guests. Making unobtrusive alterations to the home environment will allow for a more satisfactory interaction with guests who have visual, hearing or mobility impairment. Arrange furniture to clear a path for loved ones who use a walker or cane. Remember that background music makes it harder for people with hearing aids to understand conversations. Help loved ones with visual impairment select a seat that is closer to the action. And if very young children are attending the gathering, be sure to keep their toys out of the path.
A little planning and awareness goes a long way to ensure that each member of your holiday gathering will enjoy the festivities. Senior guests will appreciate your caring. And through the years, younger family members will recall the respect and empathy you demonstrated and will be more likely to make it a part of their own holiday traditions.

Categories: Geriatric Care

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