Make Holiday Gatherings Memorable | Senior Helpers of Orlando
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Make holiday gatherings memorable with hands-on activities that encourage social interaction

Thanksgiving and the winter break are right around the corner, so family trips and holiday reunions will soon start. Are you ready for them?

Family holiday gatherings can be made more meaningful if you provide activities that promote engagement and social interaction and that meet the needs of family members of all ages, including older adults and grandchildren. Get their input and prepare hands-on activities that keep everyone engaged.

Include activities that encourage active social engagement

You wouldn’t want the grandkids and other family members to spend their holiday break in front of computer screens or on their phones, messaging or texting classmates or friends; so, be brave—curtail the use of technology and encourage face-to-face contact with family and friends. Put away all laptops, tablets, and cell phones, and engage in hands-on activities that bolster social interaction between grownups and children.

Playing board games, puzzles, and card games

Children and older adults will enjoy playing old-fashioned board games. Grandparents may savor the opportunity to play games they used to play as children. Older adults can reminisce while also making connections with new experiences.

Playing board games may help to improve concentration and memory, reduce feelings of isolation and depression, and may even help delay mental decline in some adults. A French study of 3,675 participants found that older adults who actively participated in board games had a 15 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those who were not board-game players.

Board games can also be used to help rehabilitate stroke patients. For information about this, please read the online article “Playing Around with Recovery” published in Stroke Connection by the American Stroke Association. The board games mentioned in this article are Battleship, Connect Four, and Scattergories (Junior Edition).

Family caregivers can also introduce board games such as chess, Chinese checkers, and Monopoly to family game nights. Also, don’t forget to include dominoes and playing cards.

Creating artwork and making a family art album

Actively engaging in creative artwork benefits the brain. According to a small German study published in the journal PLOS ONE, creating art improves resilience and self-awareness and boosts brain connectivity. Finally, engaging in hands-on art activities also helps to lower stress levels around the holidays. Family caregivers will benefit by encouraging those under their care to participate in fun art activities.

Here are some art ideas: Before the holiday season begins, put child-safe art supplies in a bin. Include watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, pencils, sketchbooks, old newspapers, finger paints, and inexpensive art paper. Set aside some old t-shirts that family artists can wear during family art gatherings. Schedule these events in advance. Also, remember to make sure family activities do not interfere with the eating and resting schedules of younger children and older adults.

One possible event is to ask family members to take turns sketching images of each other. If the little ones cannot sit still, try taking their photos and drawing their pictures using the images. Children can also take turns drawing pictures of the grownups. Another example is to create a family art album that includes sketches and drawings created by all the family members. Make copies of it and share them with your loved ones.

Sharing family recipes and documenting holiday cooking events

Everyone loves food! Share family recipes and encourage family members to participate in meal preparation during family gatherings. You could also encourage the children to interview the older adults about their favorite family recipes and past holiday experiences. Finally, try documenting the family’s cooking activities by writing about them or creating a kitchen prep video. Include meal preparation tidbits and family anecdotes, and don’t forget to write down the recipes and compile these in a booklet; remember to include pictures, drawings, and step-by-step recipes. Then, share copies of the booklet with family members. Family recipe books or videos make a great holiday gift.

Planning for family gatherings takes time and effort. Inform family members of the fun activities you want to incorporate during the holiday break. We hope you and your loved ones have a fun and memorable holiday season. Enjoy your time together!

Should you or a family member need assistance in caring for a loved one, and would like to inquire about home health care services, call Senior Helpers Orlando at 321-422-2869. We will be glad to schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience. Senior Helpers Orlando provides Alzheimer’s care and home health care services in the counties of Orange, Osceola and Seminole.

Ana P. DeLane
Senior Helpers Orlando Team Member


ReferencesDartigues, J. F., Foubert-Samier, A., Le Goff, M., Viltard, M., Amieva, H., Orgogozo, J. M., and Helmer, C., “Playing Board Games, Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A French Population-Based Cohort Study.” BMJ Open 3, no. 8: e002998 (2013), Retrieved Nov. 1, 2017.

Mills, Mike, “Playing Around with Recovery,” Stroke Connection (American Stroke Association) (xxxx), Retrieved Oct. 31,

“How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity.” PLOS ONE 9(7): e101035 (2014), Retrieved Nov. 1, 2017.