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Making the Holidays Brighter 
for Loved Ones in a Nursing Home

December 19, 2003 — Every year around this time, the sights and sounds of the holiday season spill over into nearly every aspect of our lives. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza displays are up in stores and in our homes, holiday music is playing on the radio, and people regularly say “happy holidays” to each other, so it’s easy to get in the spirit of the season. But still, there is a certain segment of the population that may feel left out: nursing home residents.

“The holiday season can be a sad time of year for people who live in nursing homes,” says Ed McMahon, Ph.D., director of Alzheimer’s care and quality of life issues at Beverly Healthcare, the nation’s nursing home and eldercare services leader. “It’s a time they reflect back on ‘the good old days,’ and what their lives were like before they came to live in the home.”

Realizing it can be an emotional time of year, many homes plan holiday events their residents can look forward to -- such as bringing a local school choir in to sing, or going on field trips to see holiday lights. But there are a lot of things friends and family members can do, too, to help lift residents’ spirits.

* Room Decorating -- You may want to start by helping your loved one decorate his or her room with holiday decorations. Small, artificial Christmas trees decorated with holiday ornaments look great on dressers and can really make the room look and feel festive. So can Menorahs and candles. Flannel holiday bedding such as sheets, pillow cases and comforters will not only keep your loved ones warm, but add holiday cheer. Be creative -- the more festive the better -- and don’t forget holiday music!

*Holiday Cards -- It may be difficult for your loved one to send holiday cards to family and friends. You can help write personal notes in the cards, address envelopes and make sure the cards get mailed. You can also read and display the holiday cards your loved one receives.

* Shopping -- Consider taking your loved one on a fun holiday shopping trip. Plan your shopping trip for a time when there will be fewer crowds so it will be easier to move through the stores.

You may also be wondering what would be an appropriate gift to give your loved one in a nursing home. Just as you would with others on your list, consider gifts that match his or her hobbies, interests and needs. Remember, the nursing home is their home, so consider activities or items that help them feel comfortable and secure.

The experts at Beverly Healthcare suggest the following holiday gifts:

* Room Decorations -- Framed pictures, prayers or quotes, books, pretty quilts, blankets or pillows make a room more home-like and comfortable. Non-poisonous plants brighten up a room, and give your loved one something to care for. Just make sure you check with the nurses first to make sure it’s not a plant that could be dangerous to any of the residents. A calendar with special dates and upcoming events, such as grandchildren’s birthdays, children’s anniversaries and graduations, along with a selection of cards and stamps, help your loved one remember and celebrate special occasions.

* Toiletries -- Even simple gifts such as talcum powder, lotion, a toothbrush or toothpaste can significantly contribute to a resident’s comfort and well being. Because skin changes with age, check with nursing home staff to make sure such gifts are appropriate. Gift certificates to the nursing home’s beauty salon for a haircut or manicure are especially appreciated. To make it more special, you can give yourself a gift and join your loved one at the salon.

* Phone Cards -- Many nursing home residents have access to phones either in their rooms or down the hall -- but not everyone has long distance set up. A phone card that will allow the resident to place calls where they want, when they want, would be a much appreciated gift. You could even take it a step further by attaching the names and numbers of people you know they’d like to keep in touch with.

*Entertainment -- Often, nursing home residents are not able to attend special family events such as graduations, anniversaries or birthday parties. Videotape the event and watch it together so your loved one can see the festivities and feel like an important part of the family. Books and music are also popular. If your loved one has vision problems, make a date to visit weekly and read to him or her.

* Clothing -- Gifts that help your loved one feel warm and cozy during the winter months can be especially welcome. Cardigan sweaters, sweat suits, slippers, robes and lap blankets are just a few warming gift ideas. And don’t forget to pick up cheerful sweaters, sweatshirts and socks depicting fun holiday scenes. Holiday apparel can be worn throughout the season.

Above all, Beverly Healthcare reminds you that sometimes the simplest gifts are the most appreciated. If your loved one is mobile, go to a favorite restaurant, plan a visit to a church or synagogue for services, or invite friends to the nursing home for a special lunch. And of course, visiting your loved one in a nursing home is often the best gift.



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