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Don't forget older people this Christmas

A MEXICAN TWIST: Gracie Dixon has been holding festive celebrations with a Mexican twist for older clientele leading up to Christmas.
A MEXICAN TWIST: Gracie Dixon has been holding festive celebrations with a Mexican twist for older clientele leading up to Christmas. Max Fleet BUNGDH

A UNIVERSITY of Queensland professor is urging people to pay special attention to the potential needs of older friends and relatives during the festive season.

While Christmas is a time for joy and celebration, for many it can also provoke negative emotions for some, particularly older people.

UQ Aging Mind Initiative co-director Professor Nancy Pachana said it was important to reach out to older people who might be alone at this time of the year.

"Reach out to an older relative or friend. Take fruitcake to a neighbour who lives alone. Bring the kids or your dog over to visit a relative who lives alone," she said.

Prof Pachana said seasonal blues could have a profound impact on older people, and it was important to ensure they felt socially connected.

Gracie Dixon Respite Centre staff members know this better than most and for the past week, the centre has been celebrating Christmas every day for its elderly clientele - A Christmas Groundhog Day.

Centre co-ordinator Lyn Acquasanta said the week had been fantastic for everyone involved with Christmas decorating and beautiful music.

"Some of these clients are in their 80s and haven't put a Christmas tree up for years," she said.

"We celebrate Christmas for a week because we won't be open on Christmas Day.

"It's been a great celebration and old people have really enjoyed the music."

Prof Pachana said forward planning was important in reducing seasonal stress.

"Holidays can be highly stressful, confusing or even depressing for older people if their mental, physical and emotional needs are ignored," she said.

"The noise and confusion of a large family gathering can lead to irritability or exhaustion for some older persons, so organise a quiet area with refreshments and good seating for them to have a break or just talk quietly with others," Prof Pachana said.

"If a holiday get-together is held in the home of an older person with memory impairment, don't rearrange the furniture, and put used items of crockery and such back in their accustomed place - these disruptions can be a source of confusion and anxiety."

She said photo albums, family videos or music - even familiar traditional holiday dishes - could help stimulate memories and encourage older family members to share their stories or recipes.

Topics:  ageing, christmas



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