You know what they say: There’s no place like home for the holidays.
But for many residents, the holiday home is their long-term care facility. And let’s face it—no matter how engaged and friendly your staff is, or how welcoming and homey the atmosphere, it just isn’t the same thing.
Many of your residents would undoubtedly rather be spending the holidays surrounded by family, relaxing comfortably in the homes they once knew. But, while you can’t give your residents the holidays of yesteryear, with a little effort and some creativity you can provide a warm and festive holiday season right there at your facility. Here are a few suggestions to give your residents a happy, homey holiday season:
1. Find out what’s important to your residents
When it comes to planning for the holiday season at your facility, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. What makes the holidays special varies from person to person—which means including everyone’s traditions. This takes some advanced planning.
That’s why you should start early in finding out what matters most to your residents. Take some time before the season really kicks into gear to reminisce with your residents about their favorite holiday customs.
Maybe it was caroling or baking. Maybe it was decorating or sending out greeting cards.
Whatever those traditions are, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can make plans to accommodate them. That brings us to the next point…
2. Make the holidays feel as normal as possible
For long-term care residents, the facility isn’t simply the place they receive care—it’s the place they call home. And you want them to feel that way, particularly around such a nostalgic time of year. Do what you can to make the facility feel warm and comforting. Assist in sending out holiday cards. Deck the halls of the facility, and also help your residents to decorate their rooms.
“That can still be a challenge if two people are roommates and they celebrate differently, but look for opportunities to make their space festive the way they like,” says Robin Hillier, CPA, STNA, LNHA, RAC-MT, and president of RLH Consulting.
You can also make certain rooms available for individual gatherings, so that residents can celebrate with their families.
“This is their home, so we try to create the best replication of what home would be for them,” says Jessica Leclerc, CTRS and director of recreation at St. Andre Health Care.
3. Plan multiple group activities
You probably already have some group activities incorporated into your holiday programming, but there’s always room for expansion. For instance, maybe you already have an annual holiday party for family members, but you could consider hiring a Santa Claus to come pay a visit during the event. Or you could host a gift exchange such as a Secret Santa or White Elephant party with your guests.
If your residents are lovers of baking, you could ask for favorite recipes to try out.
“It's always nice to have the smell of gingerbread or Christmas cookies in the facility, and I think residents always enjoy baking,” says Hillier.
You could also plan activities that help facilitate gift giving. For instance, you could plan craft activities to create homemade decorations or small gifts. Or you could help residents shop online.
“I think online shopping as an activity is a great opportunity these days. Many facilities have computer rooms set up or areas where residents can access the Internet and employees can help them buy things online,” says Hillier.
4. Honor diversity in the resident population
While some facilities have populations that largely have similar cultural backgrounds, others have a diverse group of residents with an equally diverse set of customs and traditions. If this is the case for your facility, it’s important to be inclusive of all your residents’ holiday traditions.
Leclerc says that in addition to celebrating Christmas, the staff in her facility also celebrates Hanukkah by lighting a menorah and reading the traditional prayers. Even non-Jewish residents will gather to celebrate with their friends and neighbors.
“We really try to use it as an opportunity for other people to learn about different cultures,” she says.
Hillier says one way to incorporate multiple cultural backgrounds throughout the entire season is with a holiday movie schedule. You can program movies with a variety of holiday themes, as well as simply winter-themed movies for people who don't celebrate a religious holiday.
“I think movies are a great way to engage the residents, as well as to help them understand what some of their friends are celebrating,” she says.
There’s also opportunity to be inclusive with your holiday decorations. You could keep the entire facility to a general winter theme if you so choose. Alternatively, you could designate various common areas for different cultural themes.
5. Help plan for residents without loved ones
No one should be alone on the holidays. But not every resident has loved ones who live nearby or with whom they have a close relationship. However, there are ways to help those residents feel connected and cherished on the holiday, even if it’s not with a blood relative.
For instance, do those residents have any close friends at the facility, with whom they might be able to share in the holiday?
“A lot of our residents who don't have family nearby, or don't have family at all, other residents' families have kind of adopted them,” Hillier says. “So for example, we do a Thanksgiving brunch here and we have a particular resident who doesn't have family and another resident whose family will bring him to brunch as well.”
You could also engage your staff. Leclerc says the staff puts up an “angel tree” every year in her facility. The tree boasts the names of the residents, and staff members can pick a name off the tree and provide a gift to that person. The gifts are placed under the tree on Christmas morning. Cookies and cocoa are put out. And everyone gets to open a gift.
“We really try to make sure that every resident gets a little spoiled at the holidays whether they have family or not,” she says.
There are also options to provide companionship to your residents through the surrounding community. For instance, Scout troops are often available to come celebrate holiday festivities with long-term care residents. Hillier says that she herself was a Girl Scout who, in sixth grade, “adopted” a grandmother at a local nursing home around Christmastime.
“That relationship lasted the rest of her life. And then I continued throughout my later teen years and during my college years to go to the local nursing home and ask if I could adopt one of their residents who didn't have family during the holidays,” she says.
And speaking of bringing in outside help…
6. Reach out to the community
We all know facilities have budget constraints, and the truth is your holiday wishes might be grander than the coffers can accommodate. But the holidays are a giving time of year, and many community organizations are all too happy to oblige, if only you ask.
Leclerc suggests reaching out to churches, school groups, Scout troops, and other volunteer organizations to see what they might be able to do for your residents—whether it’s making centerpieces for a holiday dinner, coming in to craft decorations with the residents, singing carols, or sending in holiday cards.
You could also reach out to your facility’s community—staff members, families, and friends—to see if people would be willing to donate their time, their skills, or even just their old decorations.
“I think it’s important for facility staff to reach out and say, ‘Hey is there any interest in doing that?’ Because there are a lot of people who are in that giving spirit around the holidays,” says Leclerc.
7. Don’t forget about your staff
It’s important to remind your staff that they are the people the residents will be spending their holidays with. And their attitudes should reflect that.
“A lot can be done to foster a festive spirit just by the attitude, joy, and friendliness of the staff,” says Hillier, “rather than grumbling about the weather or complaining about having to work.”
But the flip side of that coin is that you are the one your staff is spending their holiday with, as well. So do your best to show your appreciation for them. For instance, you could offer a Christmas meal, says Leclerc.
“It’s just an extra way to say thank you, that we understand you're not home with your family celebrating a holiday. You're here with us and our residents, taking care of them.”
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