Making the Holidays Brighter

Integrating families and the wider community can make a potentially lonely time brighter for residents.

For many people, the holiday season can be a difficult one. Feelings of isolation and disconnection from others are often heightened for residents who are grappling with multiple medical issues, or who have recently lost a spouse or other loved ones.

But the holidays also present a months-long opportunity for your senior care community to make life a little brighter for your residents.

Marcia Houchin, life enrichment director for Omaha-based Agemark Senior Living Communities

Marcia Houchin, life enrichment director for Omaha-based Agemark Senior Living Communities

Marcia Houchin, life enrichment director for Omaha-based Agemark Senior Living Communities, says Agemark maps out a company-wide curriculum of events for the whole year well in advance. “There are different themes for each week of the year, and we suggest activities to promote the intellectual, physical, spiritual and social wellness of residents,” she explains.

These activities can be tailored by each individual community, she says, but examples might include inviting grandchildren and other kids from the surrounding community to make cookies with seniors and Santa. Other communities might invite kids in to help seniors decorate the building for the holidays. A holiday lunch party with Santa in attendance is another popular option that gets different generations to mix and mingle in a light-hearted, holiday-themed atmosphere.

Feature Family Involvement

During the holidays, many residents don’t have as much contact with their family members as they might want, due to strained family dynamics or simple geography.

Houchin says that all of the Agemark facilities “have a partnership with a local school,” and during the holidays, the kids from those schools come in for a variety of activities, from singing Christmas carols to making gingerbread houses or other Christmas crafts.

Focus on the Spiritual

While there is sometimes a religious connotation to certain holiday events, Houchin says many of the activities go beyond a specific denomination and extend to an overall spiritual category. “A big piece of that for us not just religion, but opportunities for residents to be fulfilled and feel like they’re making a difference in the world.”

To that end, some communities will sponsor a scarf-making project, where residents knit scarves to be delivered to a local homeless shelter or other needy individuals in the wider community. Taking up toy donations for disadvantaged kids is another great way for residents and their families to feel like they’re contributing during the holidays. “There’s a couple of buildings where there are always residents who volunteer to ring the Salvation Army bell,” she says.

Give Back

Other communities look to include police and first responders in their Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day meals to thank them for their service. Still others create thoughtful care packages and cards to be sent to members of the military serving overseas.

Share the Spirit

No matter which ideas work best for your community, be sure to capture and share the good that your community is creating. “Invest in some kind of digital technology,” Houchin recommends. “If you’re making stories and you have families who are far away, make sure you’re active on Facebook,” and posting what’s happening so those family members feel included, too.

She says Agemark offers its communities a video story program that helps them make seasonal videos to share. “It’s a bit like Story Corps,” she says, referencing a well-known oral history project at the Library of Congress that captures the folk history and stories of ordinary Americans.

The Agemark program prompts short interviews between staff and residents and will focus on questions like, ‘tell me what Christmas was like when you were little.” This can help guide a senior through a pleasant reminiscence exercise and may uncover stories their families didn’t even know. “They’ve been very touching and meaningful,” Houchin says of the videos. “Especially for families that don’t live nearby, sometimes they’re hearing stories for the first time.”

Suggestions for Holiday Success

Here are some suggestions to boost holiday spirit at your facility:

  • Get creative. And don’t forget to involve staff members, Houchin says. “When we find out that an employee has a son or daughter in a choir, we’ll invite them in to perform in our buildings.”
  • Provide a purpose. “I think almost anyone can do something to feel purposeful and find meaning this time of the year. It’s great to give back to the community,” Houchin says, and there are lots of ways to feed each person’s spiritual need to have a purpose.
  • Involve multiple generations. Residents may feel disjointed from their families, so if their own kids and grandkids can’t be in attendance, help them find other younger people to connect with. Invite in local schools or college clubs to spend time getting to know residents.
  • Involve pets or animals. Houchin says residents in one community like to make homemade dog treats and deliver them to a local shelter, where they also get to interact with the animals.

Topics: Activities , Alzheimer's/Dementia , Resident Care