Senior Beat

Special ways to bring back festive feelings for the holidays

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

Halloween is in a couple of weeks – my official start to the holiday season. The next few months will have a family focus as we plan for Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah.

For elders living in an assisted living facility or nursing home, the holidays can be lonely as they recall celebrations past with all the hustle and bustle of the festivities and the joy of children’s excitement. This makes visits from loved ones even more important and appreciated.

There are some things you can do to bring back the festive feeling and make the visits even more special.

First, before filling bags with decorations du jour 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. For some, a little goes a long way while others may want their rooms to look like a parade.

If the facility has a common room available, you and your loved one could make simple but festive decorations together. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to bond with grandchildren. Pumpkins are easy and fun, as is tracing a hand for a turkey. Tying bows to a string or ribbon can make a beautiful garland that the residents can hang in their rooms. And coloring is also a popular choice for some elders and fun for children; especially when they do it together.

Coloring is a very soothing activity, to the point that there are now adult coloring books on the market for the stressed-out crowd. However, if you are obsessively fussy and neat at all, these adult books may not be for you or your loved one. They typically have elaborate designs with some tiny spaces to fill in. I would stick with the kids’ ones. Easier on the nerves.

Most facilities have holiday functions in which family members can participate so ask the activity director or executive director for a list of upcoming events.

The main thing to remember is to be sure the visit focuses on the elder.

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.

If the elder loves animals, and you have a well-behaved dog, ask if you can bring it in to visit. Maybe bring bright pictures of animals, or download cute videos of puppies and kittens to watch together on a tablet. These are irresistible.

Maybe your loved one is a sports fan. Have the children bring in items that revolve around the senior’s favorite team. There’s nothing like a cozy blanket of the team’s logo to warm the spirit.

Prepare children for what they might see in the facility, because it could prove frightening if this is a new experience. Tell them what to expect– that they will see people lying in bed, in wheelchairs or unresponsive. Encourage them to talk about the experience.

Children may be shy at the first meeting, so giving them a small gift that they can present to their loved one will help break the ice. And provide them 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.

To be on the safe side, bring toys and snacks for the children to keep them from getting bored and fussy if the visit goes longer than they can tolerate.

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 an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at seniorbeat@gmail.com.

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