A couple saved up all year to be able to attend a friend’s wedding in a different part of the country.  The invitation had said that their presence was more important than their presents, but ‘however if you do want to give us a gift can it be cash please?’ or words to that effect. It left them in a bit of a quandary because they couldn’t afford the travel and accommodation cost as well as a gift. They asked (on Mumsnet) which was the most important?

When it comes to the older people in your life there’s no question about it.  Your presence will be more precious than gold.  Because, while  older people have accumulated many possessions, many have less of what matters most of old – relationships with others.  One of the sad things about older people, a GP told me, is that they lose the cohort of their generation – the friends and people they have had in their lives.

 So, buy gifts for grandma and grandad, but don’t spend much on them.  Instead invest in spending time with them over Christmas. It may be that the best option is to have them stay with you.  To make the most of it here are a few tips from former care home manager and psychogeriatric nurse, Janet Jacob:

          Make them feel welcome and part of the family.

  • Older people tend to like warmer rooms than others, but can be comfortable with a rug around the knees,
  • When handing around cups of tea, make sure they have a side table to put them on,
  • Make sure they bring their hearing aids if they need them,
  • Include them, naturally, in the conversation,
  • Ask them to share their memories of Christmases and people past!
  • But expect them to need a little ‘time-out’, especially if there is a high noise level
  • If they are staying overnight, make sure there is a nightlight on the landing, so they can find their way easily to the bathroom
  • Check that they can switch a light on in the bedroom easily,
  • Make sure there are no loose rugs they can trip over,
  • Check for light switches – sometimes they are inside the bathroom or outside. Point them out!
  • Perhaps put a sign or picture on the bathroom door if the door is like others on the landing. Many older people won’t ask – and if they’ll be upset if they disturb other people.

‘Make a fuss of them,’ says Janet.  ‘It’s the little things that make a difference. A little chocolate on their night-stand, with a comforting Bible verse, and a cup of tea in the morning.’

Friendship cafe at Royd Court

 It’s the same when you are visiting older people, in their own homes or in a care home.   Janet advises, ‘Go and spend an hour with that person, help them to feel valued, not just a quick visit in and out.  The gift of time – giving that time, sit with them, let them know that they’re valued – they are important, and they’re not forgotten.’

Whether at home or visiting, remember that older people benefit from spiritual support.  Janet once took a box of ‘After Eight’ chocolates and wrapped a Scripture verse around each one.  ‘They had a sweet taste on the tongue and on the heart,” she said.

It’s as this old song says – little things mean a lot! Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zie4K70DZdk

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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