In an online poll, over half of respondents said they usually experience loneliness over the holidays, and only a small percentage said they never do. While this poll included all ages, we know this can be especially common for older adults. About 30% of older adults living in the community live alone, while that rises to half of those 85 and older.
Being alone does not automatically mean one feels lonely or isolated, but the risk increases. Detrimental feelings associated with isolation can become more pronounced when spending a holiday alone, given the emphasis on celebrating with friends and families. And, interaction with others is crucial to positive emotional health. Isolation is associated with higher rates of chronic disease, depression, dementia and death. Prolonged isolation can be as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to research published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
We’ll share some options when you live alone but don’t want to spend a holiday alone. Additionally, we’ll offer ways to deal with isolation and things you can do to help loved ones and neighbors who might be having lonely holidays.
Holiday Activities in the Community
Knowing many seniors will be spending the holiday alone, senior centers pay more attention to loneliness this time of the year. They host extra activities, such as gift exchanges, holiday parties and trips. For example, just look at the November newsletter for the Hale Center, Dunedin’s senior center. Along with a packed calendar of the usual monthly activities, they have a Thanksgiving luncheon and two special trips (one to see holiday decorations at a garden and one for shopping).
The Sunshine Center in St. Pete offers a jam-packed schedule too. But, you don’t need to focus solely on senior activities. Most towns run a lot of programs for all ages, especially around the holidays. Just look at everything going on in St. Pete this holiday season. There’s no need to spend the holiday alone with so much happening. If you need help with transportation, there are many local options for senior transportation. And, an EasyLiving companion can accompany you and assist you during outings as well.
Take a look at the long list of Thanksgiving activities in the Tampa Bay area. They include everything from Thanksgiving cookie decorating to “Friendsgiving” parties and a Thanksgiving play. We also suggest Eventbrite and Meetup to find local events of all types. And, of course, check out what your favorite places are doing for the holidays. For example, if you love going to see plays or ballet, look at the event schedule for your local theater or ballet company.
And, YOU can plan an event too! Perhaps you have a book club or bridge group. Have a potluck or coffee and cookie get together for the holiday. Or, plan a special outing so no one has to clean. Hold a “Friendsgiving” or “Orphan’s Christmas” party for those spending the holiday alone. You can make it easy with everyone bringing a dish, getting it catered, or booking a table at a local spot. It doesn’t have to be a big meal either. You can enjoy coffee and cake plus a $5 gift exchange, for example. Or, do a fun activity together.
Don’t Spend the Holiday Alone, Spend it Helping Others in Need
Volunteering is a wonderful way to feel connected. Ask your favorite charity how you can help around the holidays or check here for more ideas:
You might also check with local nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. You can often volunteer on a regular basis, or you can specifically help out during the holidays when people there may be especially lonely.
Spending a Holiday Alone at Home But Together Virtually
Though we’ve shared lots of ideas for getting out with others during the holidays, you may still end up spending a holiday alone at home. This may be your preference if you’re not feeling well or get overwhelmed. Sometimes a quiet holiday alone is just what you need. Yet, you don’t have to be lonely.
We suggest planning a “virtual get together”. You can plan to Skype or Facetime with friends or family. Video chatting is especially fun when you’re spending a holiday alone because you can see everyone in their festive attire, interact with even the littlest grandkids, etc. If you and your loved ones or friends have iPhones, Facetime is a simple option. Skype can be used on a phone or computer and is free. The Amazon Echo Show can be used for video calls among many other useful features. If you don’t have any of these set up, this makes a perfect early holiday gift. Ask a techy friend or family member to arrange it and show you how to use it.
A virtual get-together can also just be done by phone. Other friends are likely spending the holiday alone too. And, even those who are not physically alone often feel lonely at this time of year. So, reach out and let people know you care. Plan times to talk. If you know a particular day or time will be hard for you, ask a friend if you can arrange a call at that time.
Making a Holiday Alone Less Lonely
Among the reasons a holiday alone is especially tough are memories and our expectations. If we’ve lost a loved one, grief may hit us particularly hard as we think back to holidays together. The expectations of this being a joyful, communal time can exacerbate sad feelings. You might not want to take any of the suggestions for activities, or might not feel up to them this year. So, if you are spending the holiday alone, here are a few ideas to make it more enjoyable and less lonely:
First, acknowledge your losses. Take time to reflect on special memories of the person. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. (And, if you know someone who has experienced a recent loss, reach out to them and take time to listen.) Be gentle with yourself and consider what you need. Sometimes changing things up and creating new memories and traditions can help, but you may not be ready for that. Take things at your own pace.
If timing is an issue (for example, loved ones can’t make a trip to see you at Christmas), plan holiday celebrations at different times. Knowing you have something to look forward to can make you feel less lonely.
Have a day of holiday indulgence and self-care. Enjoy your favorite treats. Even if you don’t want to cook a full holiday meal when you’re spending the holiday alone, you can order a take-out meal or make one favorite dish. Relax and rest. Watch some heartwarming holiday movies. Listen to holiday music or something that relaxes you. Read a good book. Listen to some old-fashioned holiday radio stories. You can get them on-demand now in podcast form (see a few ideas below).
Helping Those Who Might Be Spending the Holiday Alone
Reach out to neighbors, loved ones and friends who might be spending the holidays alone. Check in by phone regularly. Acknowledge their losses and allow space for them to talk as they feel comfortable. Invite them to gatherings or outings. However, be aware that holiday events may be tough for them. Don’t be discouraged if they say no. Think about whether a different or modified activity might be better. We have some ideas here.
The holidays may highlight just how isolated a loved one is. Consider hiring a companion to help with holiday tasks, prepare some delicious meals and escort your family member to activities. After the holidays, you may realize that it is time to assess the living situation to determine if there’s a need for more home help or a senior living community.
Caregivers may also be quite isolated at the holidays and experience feelings of depression or burnout. Here are some holiday tips for caregivers and specific tips for Alzheimer’s caregivers. The gift of your support and time can be treasured by someone who is caregiving. We share how to do this and other gifts that will be meaningful to caregivers and elders.