4 ways to stay connected with senior loved ones over the holidays

The holidays are coming, and while our celebrations may look different this year, the need to stay connected with our senior loved ones remains constant—and maybe even more important right now.

Whether your senior lives in a retirement residence or in a house or apartment, in-person visits are always wonderful for catching up, offering support and celebrating traditions. When stopping by isn’t possible though, here are four fun ways to connect, celebrate and make new holiday memories:

  1. Send—and receive—handwritten holiday letters

    There’s nothing better than receiving a handwritten letter, even in this age of high-tech correspondence. Encourage grandchildren to spend some time handwriting a letter about what they love most about the holidays, or their favourite family traditions. Ask your senior loved one to do the same, perhaps writing about a family anecdote, or describing a holiday of their childhood. Beyond the fun of reading the letter, it turns out that handwriting is good for all of us: research shows that it encourages use of fine motor skills, memory and cognition.*

    If a lengthy letter seems too much to send, consider buying several interesting postcards, crafting a short personal message on the back, and sending them at intervals over the course of two or three weeks. This is a great kids’ project; encourage them to write notes or draw pictures on their postcards.

  2. Schedule group video chats

    There are so many options now—many of which are senior-friendly—to bring family and friends together online. Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts and even smart speakers such as Alexa can be quickly set up and taught, depending on your seniors’ device.* Make the visits fun by “sharing” a plate of homemade holiday treats, or reading a favourite holiday story. A virtual story time shared between grandparents and grandchildren is a great way to break the ice during a video chat; kids love the opportunity to listen to a story, and seniors love the warmth and intimate connection.

  3. Play games online together

    When you can’t get together for a fun game of Scrabble, there’s always Words with Friends, * the similar online game that’s one of the most popular mobile games in the US. It’s a great family bonding activity, as multiple players can play from anywhere.

    AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) recommends several online games, including Monopoly and Song Quiz, a version of the familiar Name That Tune gameshow.*

  4. Send holiday care packages

    If you can’t open presents together, send your senior loved one a thoughtful care package. A cozy sweater or warm, plush blanket is always appreciated, especially if outdoor visits are planned. Socks with grippers on the soles, or shearling slippers are other good choices. A decorative holiday door or wall wreath will add festive spirit. For nature lovers, think about a bird feeder, which can bring hours of enjoyment when mounted near a window. Of course, home-baked treats and framed family photos always make special gifts!

Chartwell Retirement Residences offer numerous safe holiday activities, celebrations, and social occasions for senior residents, especially meaningful when family and friends can’t always be there. Learn more here about Chartwell’s Active Living programs.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. The Week. “4 benefits of writing by hand. January 16, 2013, online:https://theweek.com/articles/468718/4-benefits-writing-by-hand

2. Lifehacker. “The simplest video chat apps for people who struggle with tech.” September 4, 2020, online: https://lifehacker.com/the-simplest-video-chat-apps-for-people-who-struggle-wi-1842780065

3. Zynga.com. “Words with Friends 2.” 2020, online: https://www.zynga.com/games/words-with-friends-2/https://www.zynga.com/games/words-with-friends-2/

4. AARP. “5 Friendly Online Games for Socially Distant Fun.” October 19, 2020, online: https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2020/online-games-when-stuck-inside.html