As the holidays approach and we reflect on the past year, 2020 has been a year of unpleasant realities, adjustments and compromises. Yet it has also offered us opportunities to learn, to think about doing things differently, and to recentre our values. Many families will be looking forward to spending time together over the festive season and reconnecting with loved-ones. However, there are a number of things to think about in our current ‘non-business-as-usual’ circumstances. Here are five to keep in mind. 

1. Connection is crucial 

Human beings are social creatures, and we are driven by a deep need for connection. 2020 has thrown us some curve-balls – restricting our interaction with others considerably for a good part of the year. When it comes to older adults, isolation and a lack of human interaction can have negative psychological and physical health effects. “It is well documented that isolation and loneliness among older people has a detrimental impact on overall health, and an increased risk of dementia, among other things,” says Barry Kaganson, CEO of Auria Senior Living, which develops and manages senior living communities in South Africa. “Older adults residing in senior living environments benefit from having access to a community, to opportunities to socialise and to a number of other amenities which ensure good quality of life,” says Kaganson. 

Thankfully, technology has given families and friends options for staying in touch – making periods of lockdown and quarantine more bearable. As countries like our own open up restrictions and allow more interaction, and as family members see each other again, it may be a useful time to consider whether the living arrangements of senior family members need to change in the coming year. This may be to support their changing health and physical needs, or to ensure that they have access to family or community structures which could help mitigate the potential for isolation and its possible problems should we see another period of lockdown or restricted movement.  

“While many families will be making the best plans they can to see each other, some will not be able to. This may be because of health concerns relating to COVID-19 or families being dispersed across provinces or countries. Having older members in a senior living community gives peace of mind to family members when they can’t see each other, as they know their loved-ones will be well cared for and far from lonely, as they are able to socialise within a professionally managed and controlled environment providing a form of ‘safety bubble’,” says Kaganson. 

2. Give the gift of love 

The events of 2020 have given many people a renewed perspective on what is truly important in life – and physical possessions are not as high on the list as we like to place them in prosperous times. It is sobering to see how many people have lost jobs or incomes, have had to scale back on their lifestyles, or who have had to make difficult choices. Budgets have shrunk and many people have had to stick to the essentials. 

Gift giving in this context can take on a whole new meaning – and perhaps a more positive one. For some time now, there has been a school of thought that experiences and shared memories are better than things. If one has the budget for gifting, then giving or sharing an experience can be an opportunity to do something thoughtful and meaningful. For the more restricted budget, it is worth considering that in 2020, just having time spent together is a gift in itself. 

“Even with COVID-19, we are enabling friends and loved ones to visit residents in our communities over the holiday season, in a responsible way, as we know the importance of this time of year to so many,” says Kaganson. 

3. Keep the long term in mind 

Given the challenges many people have faced during 2020, many people and families will have to keep budgets in mind for some time to come. Christmas gifts, New Year parties and the like can quickly add up. For seniors, it is particularly important to look beyond the immediate festive season and make sure that budget is available for possible unforeseen events. “Whether these relate to health, moving home, or simply staying within a retirement budget, it is important to have a plan and stick to it,” says Kaganson. 

4. Be sensible about health 

While we are definitely being afforded more liberty to meet and socialise, it is important for the sake of the greater good to remain cognisant of the fact that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. If you are a senior making plans to see family over the festive season, make sure you are comfortable with whatever arrangements are being made in terms of protecting your health. If your festive plans include seeing older people, take some time to make sure that gatherings are kept within acceptable numbers and that the health protocols we have all become used to following are remembered.  

5. Have a 2021 plan 

We all want to hope for a better 2021 and for some kind of a return to normal – however, COVID-19 is still with us and may yet be for some time. When it comes to planning your own life as a senior, or your family’s activities as a group that includes seniors, it will be useful to have a game plan in case we see another wave of infections and stricter lockdowns in the coming year. 

“The safety and relative predictability of life in a well-managed senior living environment can offer peace of mind to older people and couples. Evidence of this can be seen in the significant spike in interest in people looking to move into senior living communities more recently,” says Kaganson.

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