Local retailers have reminded us that the holidays are fast approaching by putting out Christmas items before Halloween!

Preparations are well under way for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. At Home Instead Senior Care, we are in the midst of our 11th year of the “Be a Santa to a Senior” program, so we understand the need for early preparation.

Some seniors begin to regard the holidays with a sense of dread. As others begin the planning process for the holidays, seniors without family, or whose loved ones are far away, begin to feel even more isolated.

TV commercials depict family gatherings or poignant scenes that sometimes bring tears and evoke emotions that only increase the feeling of separation. This enhanced loneliness can often lead to depression or increased visits to the doctor’s office.

So, what can you do for older family members, or perhaps neighbors, who are alone for the holidays? Include them in a holiday dinner!

As you plan, ask them to select a favorite recipe that is traditional for them and, if they are able, ask them to prepare it. If they can’t, ask for the recipe in advance.

Be sure to ask If they have any dietary restrictions or allergies. You want this to be a great experience for them.

The day of the dinner, ask them to come early or go and pick them up if they have no transportation. Invite them to assist you in the preparation or to sit, talk and give helpful hints as you make their recipe.

During dinner, seat them in a place where they are most likely to participate in the conversation. If there is a story behind the recipe, ask them to share it.

Encourage them to share their stories by asking open-ended questions: “Tell me about how your family celebrated the holiday?” or “What is your favorite memory about this holiday?”

If there will be children or young people there, ask them to bring a handmade card or a project to show. Sing holiday songs together.

If the senior’s family won’t be there for the holiday, take them shopping, either physically or online, and perhaps help them wrap and send packages. Help them write and mail their holiday cards. If they wish, help them decorate their home or assist you in decorating yours.

Seniors usually do not need material things. The greatest gift of all is your time.

If you do not know a lonely person, visit a lonely resident in a nursing home or assisted living community or contribute to a community sponsored program for seniors.

Doing so will be a gift for yourself.

Rachel Carson is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care, celebrating its 20th anniversary of providing in-home care to the Lowcountry.