Making the Most of Holidays With Your Loved One in a Long-Term Care Facility

        Erin Vigne, MA, RN, director of clinical affairs at AMDA, shares some insights into how to have joyous holidays and happy memories when your loved one is in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
        If you have a loved one in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, holidays can be bittersweet – both wonderful and stressful. However, there are some things you can do to help you, your loved one, and other family members enjoy celebrations, share time together, and find much to be thankful for.
        Consider adding some festive spirit to your loved one’s room by adorning it together with holiday decorations such as a small Christmas tree or menorah or holiday cards. Be sure to check with the facility first to find out what you can and can’t bring, and make sure the decorations don’t present a tripping, fire, or other hazard.
        Doing activities together like making holiday cards, decorating cookies, and singing songs can involve the whole family and create new memories.
        Enjoying your family’s traditional holiday foods can be a great way to elicit fond memories and spotlight the spirit of the season. Speaking of spirits, a champagne toast or glass of wine may be appropriate. However, check with your loved one’s physician or other practitioner to be sure that alcohol or the foods you plan to bring are safe for them to enjoy.
        Emotions can run high during the holidays. Your loved one may tell you they want to go home, but this may not be possible. Their desire to go home can simply be a yearning to be surrounded by the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of home and to feel safe and loved. Think about items you or your family members can bring to help re-create these feelings. Avoid saying “You are home” or “You can’t go home.”
        It may be possible to take your loved one out of the facility for the holidays. First check with their physician or other practitioner and if they have no concerns, plan ahead to keep your loved one comfortable and safe. For instance, if you have a holiday party, make sure your loved one has a comfortable seat and a quiet room where they can rest if they start to feel overwhelmed. If you go to a restaurant, make sure there is easy access to the restrooms and there aren’t many stairs they will need to navigate.
        Holidays can be more challenging if your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Keep groups of visitors small (no more than three to four people at a time) and the visits short. If you bring children, prepare them for the visit by explaining to them why their loved one may not recognize them or remember their name. Photo albums, familiar music, and favorite items can bring back memories that you can reminisce about together. Try to be with them in the moment and meet them where they are.
        As for gifts, consider things that help them with their function — nonslip shoes, a reacher/grabber tool, grooming items made for people with arthritis. Or consider gifts to bring them happiness — a box of favorite candy, a beautiful floral arrangement, or a recording of family members singing a song or telling a story. Avoid expensive gifts such as a fancy jewelry that could be lost or misplaced.
        For people with dementia, consider technology gifts that keep people connected or headsets and favorite music. You could also consider specially designed puzzles and activities, items that bring comfort such as massage balls or soft quilts or stuffed animals, or animatronic animals or interactive dolls.
        It’s easy to get excited about the holidays, but it’s important to have realistic expectations for your celebration with your loved one in a long-term care facility. Realize that they may not want to do some things they used to do, and their taste or ability to eat certain things may have changed. It’s a good idea to call the facility before you visit to make sure your loved one is up for company that day and is not too ill or tired. Being flexible, patient, and compassionate can go a long way toward creating a holiday season that everyone can celebrate.

        Questions to Ask Your Practitioner

        • What can we do to reduce holiday stress or depression for my loved one?
        • Does the facility have special holiday activities planned that I can participate in?
        • What foods does the facility serve during the holidays?
        • How can I help keep my loved one safe if I take them out of the facility for the holidays? What special needs should I be prepared to attend to?

        Things You Can Do

        • Include your loved one in the planning of activities.
        • Bring decorations and other things that you think will recall happy memories for your loved one.
        • Talk to the staff who know your loved one about what activities they might enjoy.

        For More Information

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        Consider practical gifts, or gifts that bring happiness. Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash.