Holiday traditions may present challenges for older adults: Here’s how to help

For many of us, the Thanksgiving holiday has always included celebrations at the homes of parents, grandparents or older loved ones. Sometimes though, our aging loved ones may find that holiday preparations have become overwhelming and require more work and effort than they used to. Older adults may not always feel comfortable telling us this out of embarrassment or out of fear that they are losing abilities or disappointing family members.

Stefanie Small, LCSW, clinical services supervisor and psychotherapist at Jewish Family & Children’s Service, works with older adults in the community and their adult children to help them cope with, manage and find solutions for the challenges that are often associated with aging.

“As the holidays approach, there is a perfect opportunity to have an open discussion with older adults about family traditions,” Stefanie says. “Reassure your older family members that they’re in control–and that you’re here to help not take over.”

Stefanie suggests several ways children can approach conversations and help ensure their older loved ones are respected and happy, even if their role in family holiday traditions and gatherings changes.

  1. Ask the older adult what they want and respect their wishesDo not make assumptions about whether they do or do not wish to host the family dinner or gathering. Older adults are proud of their role as the holiday host and may feel embarrassed to have to ask for help. A well-meaning, kind and calm conversation in advance of the holidays will help to diffuse any stress or hurt feelings.
  2. Help older adults prepare in their homesWhile many older adults may still want to host holidays or family dinners, they might be physically unable to prepare for the entire event alone as they have done previously. This is an ideal opportunity for younger members of the family to gently offer to help and spend time with older adults learning the family traditions.
  3. Offer to host the meal at your home with the help of the older adultSome seniors who may have downsized their home or are in a senior living or care facility may no longer be able to host a large family gathering. Offer to host the family gathering at your home and encourage them to help in other ways, such as bringing their famous dish to contribute to the meal.
  4. Use the holiday as an opportunity to do an overall check in with older adultsThe holidays present a wonderful time to assess an older loved one’s overall well-being. “When you visit an older loved one’s home, take note of their surroundings. Are they eating well? Is their home clean and taken care of? Are they wearing clean clothes?” Stefanie says. “It’s a good way to set up a benchmark for assessing changes as your loved ones age.”

Above all, Stefanie says early involvement and open communication is the best way to approach the challenges of aging and maintain relationships between adult children and their elderly loved ones.

JF&CS aims to help identify strengths, healthcare needs, safety issues and resources to meet changing needs and challenges related to aging. Through JF&CS’s care coordination, licensed home care registry (Caregiver Connection), tools like our ElderAlert personal emergency response system and the AgeWell Pittsburgh resource hotline, many services are available to help our community’s older adults obtain the highest level of independence, comfort and safety consistent with their capacity and preferences for care.

Additionally, through our AgeWell Pittsburgh collaboration with the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA), Jewish Community Center (JCC) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, we provide a network of services, programs and information on issues related to aging. One call to the AgeWell Pittsburgh information and referral line at JF&CS puts seniors and adult children in contact with a knowledgeable specialist who is committed to connecting callers to the services and support they need – from AgeWell Pittsburgh partner agencies or through other community resources. Whether callers have specific questions, or just don’t know where to turn, the AgeWell Pittsburgh information and referral specialist helps to identify needs and provide answers and support. Together, with the funding of the United Way of Allegheny County, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and other funders and donors, AgeWell Pittsburgh works to keep our community’s seniors healthy and independent for as long as possible.

At JF&CS, we approach aging from all perspectives in order to give families options instead of ultimatums. Find out more by visiting our website at or by calling our AgeWell Pittsburgh hotline at 1-877-243-1530, toll-free, or call 412-422-0400.

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