With Thanksgiving behind us, we gear up for even larger festivities. While there may be no place like home for the holidays, that’s just not reality for some people who are ill and in a long-term care facility.
Visits from loved ones are important and much appreciated but there are things that can make them even more special and bring holiday cheer to the resident as well. Here are some suggestions to make this season a little merrier for someone living in just such a facility:
• First, before filling bags with decorations and heading off to your loved one’s room, check with the staff to see how much decorating you’ll be allowed to do. And ask your loved one what he or she thinks would make the room more festive.
• Craft stores are great resources for every holiday. If the facility has a common room that is available, you and your loved one could make simple tree ornaments or other holiday projects, which is a lot of fun and a great way to bond with grandchildren.
• Who doesn’t have old, unidentified loose family pictures in boxes? Perhaps your loved one can clear up the mystery. Bring the photos and a large scrapbook with you when you visit. You may learn a thing or two about your ancestors while putting the pictures in the album.
• Bring some holiday catalogs on your visit and ask for the senior’s input on gift choices for other older family members or read a favorite holiday story together. Include a large-print version of the book for the senior if you can find one.
• Most facilities have several holiday functions in which family members can participate, while providing an opportunity for them to spend quality time with their loved ones. It also gives good insight into his or her world. The facility’s activity director will have a list of upcoming events.
• If possible, sing familiar holiday songs. If your loved one has a roommate, check first to make sure all this merriment is ok. Some people may not want holiday spirit forced on them. Or do an activity together related to the family’s religion, such as reading stories from the Bible or other religious texts.
• Bring in items related to the senior’s interests. For instance, for a resident who is a car buff, grandchildren could bring in model cars, car magazines, or glossy dealership brochures. Have the children use these items to spark conversation. Ask questions about the family’s first car and what driving was like decades ago. Or maybe he or she is a sports fan. Have the children bring in items revolving around the senior’s favorite team. Nothing like a cozy blanket of the team’s motif to warm the spirit. Maybe a large print book on a favorite player would be appreciated.
• Before bringing children into a nursing home, prepare them for what they may see. This will be a new experience and could prove frightening. Tell them what to expect, that they will see people lying in bed, in wheelchairs or unresponsive. Encourage them to talk about the experience. They may be shy at first, so giving them a small gift that they can present to their loved one will help break the ice. Check first with the staff to see what the resident might need and before bringing food check on dietary restrictions.
• Provide children with prepared questions so they can “interview” their elderly relatives about what life was like when they were the child’s age. Consider recording these responses. This rich history is a gift in itself.
Really, the most important thing is to visit and let your aging loved ones know that they are cared about and still an important part of the family.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free (800) 432-7812, or log on EAAA.org.