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Celebrating with loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living facilities

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Celebrating with loved ones who live in a nursing home or assisted living can be a lot of fun if the family and the care center join forces. Most facilities make a big deal about holidays and birthdays. Your presence can enhance your elders' enjoyment.

The nursing home where five of my elders lived at varying times had monthly birthday celebrations with a festive dinner that would include all of the guests the birthday person wanted to invite. Since my dad, mom, and mother-in-law were all in the same nursing home at once, I'd wheel them, one by one, down to the special room set aside for the parties. Then the four of us, plus any other friends or family, would gather at our reserved, intimate, cloth draped round table.

We'd be surrounded by other families and elders who had settled into their own spots. The center served a nice meal, some birthday cake and even wine or beer for those who wanted it. My elders enjoyed these occasions and the family enjoyed being part of them.

For Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Halloween, July 4th or any other special day, the home provided decorations, appropriate activities and jolly good cheer. I always decorated my loved one's rooms with ornaments they remembered from their past. The nursing home often wrapped doors to look like gifts and the main rooms came alive with flowers and decorations for each occasion.

Celebrating with Elders: 8 Tips for a Joyous Occasion

Besides decorating their rooms and showing up for celebrations, what can you do to make a holiday festive for your loved one?

  • Use music. It's great for setting the mood. It also relaxes tension or promotes a festive feel, depending on the music chosen and the direction you need to go with the elder. Keep a CD player or an iPOD (with speaker) around so you can play their favorites.
  • Sing. Singing can be fun for many people. Whether Christmas Carols, Happy Birthday or just old favorites, getting a few people together to sing can often help everyone have a good time, even if they can't physically join in.
  • Use photos. Photos are wonderful for stirring memories. If you print copies of old photos, you won't have to worry about loss or damage. If some can be enlarged without undue distortion, so much the better. Hang them on walls or put them in an album.
  • Cook your elders' favorite foods. Bring favorite foods for the occasion, even if the facility is loaded with treats. Each elder has favorite treats from home. Try to provide some for the elder and some for her to give as snacks to residents, staff and visitors. Many elders enjoy a chance to be a host or hostess.
  • Avoid over stimulation. Be careful to not over stimulate someone with dementia. Keep an eye on the elders' moods so you know when to stop the party or when you should help a particular elder back to his room if he needs a break. Too much commotion can get confusing and stressful for anyone in ill health, but particularly for someone confused by dementia. Celebrating should preferably end before stress is evident, but be alert in case you need to assist someone to a quieter area.
  • Connect with others. Hopefully, you already have made friends with staff, other residents and their families. That connectedness helps your loved one feel a part of a whole rather than left out of life. If your loved one is new to the center, this is a good time to get to know other families.
  • Be sure to participate. Join in the fun as much as your loved one can handle, but remember your own needs as well. If you have family members at home that need some of your time, then you have to balance both worlds. Give your loved ones in the care center your attention and contribute to their good time, then leave them in the good hands of staff and go back home to finish celebrating with the rest of your family.
  • Get some rest. All of this celebrating doesn't only wear down your elders. It can also be exhausting for the caregiver. You found help by choosing a good care center because your elders need more help than you, alone, can give. When party time is over, give yourself time to regenerate. You should be a better caregiver if you do.

Celebrations should be fun and encouraging for all involved. These tips can help reduce stress, anxiety, and fears--and, in the end, help you have a good time with those around you.