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Making sense of the season for seniors

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
November 30, 2018

Did you know that 28 percent of people 65 or older live alone, according to AARP? Each year, these seniors have fewer family members and friends to provide company and care to them, which often leads to social isolation. The holidays can be especially hard for those who are living independently and may feel lonely.  

The effects of aging can wreak havoc on the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Check out these creative ideas from Home Instead Senior Care and Diane K. Hendricks, CMSW, LMHP social worker from the Home Instead center for Successful Aging, to keep seniors in tune to the season by relying on their other senses.  

Sight: An afternoon of music could be just what the doctor orders for aging adults who have lost the sense of sight.  Put on the holiday music, sing along to the songs and sway in rhythm to the music. As we have discussed in the past, music truly moves the soul and stirs things inside of us like nothing else.  Ask your aging loved one about their best holiday memories like: “Did you decorate your home?’ “Did you ever ride in a horse- drawn sleigh?” “What are your favorite holiday dishes or secret family recipes for the holidays?” “Did you ever go house to house caroling? Or did you or your kids do Christmas pageants at school as kids?”  

Sound: Seniors who have lost their sense of sound can still enjoy the sights and smells of baking. Make gingersnaps and let your loved one smell the wonderful aroma, feel the texture of the cookie and taste the delicious flavors. Don’t forget even if your aging loved one has lost their sense of sound, they can still feel the vibrations of the music.  Just turn it up a bit or sit them close to the music. You will be surprised how much they can feel this way.   

Smell: Older adults who can no longer smell will want to tune into the glitter and glitz of the season. Schedule a craft day when you take last year’s holiday cards and convert them into Christmas ornaments.  Cut out the front of the cards, scallop the edges, punch a hole at the top and tie a ribbon through the hole.  Write on the back of the ornament who sent the card and the year.  

Touch: Older adults who have lost their sense of touch can compensate by tapping into their sense of smell. (Certain health conditions can also affect one’s ability to sense touch, such as poor blood circulation, skin or nerve damage caused by diabetes, neurological disorders, mental illnesses and brain disorders. Certain medications and treatments can also affect touch sensation.) Buy dried balsam pine needles online and make them into sachets for a Christmas tree in a bag.  Use holiday-themed fabric or organza drawstring bags available from craft stores.  

Taste: Seniors who have lost their sense of taste can relive their memories of delicious dishes.  Go through your senior’s recipe box and pull out recipes for holiday dishes from the past. Copy and mount them on red and green card stock and create a holiday recipe book as a gift for younger members of the family. I am telling you from experience, this will be a treasured gift! You can even get more creative as I did last year when I found one of my grandmother’s famous and favorite recipes in her own handwriting. She had passed in 1987 so this was a treasured find indeed!  I had the recipe in grandma’s own handwriting etched into wooden cutting boards for my mom and her two brothers for last Christmas. They all said it brought tears to their eyes to see their mother’s handwriting again and to have her favorite recipe in this way.  

During the holidays there are way to reinvent the joys of the season despite the effects of aging. You may need to be a bit creative. However, be mindful of the pitfalls of getting off track for seniors and how it can cause a set back from an illness or put them at risk for new health problems. Too much of a good thing can be not so good according to experts and this we will talk about next week. Everything in moderation-even holiday cheer!  

Don’t have an aging loved one in your life? Would you like to make a difference in one? Be a Santa to a Senior is a true community program, getting generous support from Sonoma businesses, nonprofit organizations, retailers, numerous volunteers and members of the community. Home Instead Senior Care in Rohnert Park has collaborated with local resource partners to help with gift collection and distribution.   

It’s easy to help out. Go to one of the participating locations listed at  or look for the Be a Santa to a Senior tree on display at Raley’s Grocery Stores, Oliver’s Market, LT’s Studio or Mercy Wellness here in town.  Each tree will be decorated with ornaments featuring seniors’ first names and their desired gifts. Holiday shoppers can choose an ornament, buy the requested gift and return it to the store with the ornament attached. There’s no need to worry about wrapping — community volunteers and program partners will wrap and deliver the gifts to local seniors in time for the holidays.  

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.