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How to celebrate holidays when seniors live in assisted living

Holidays in assisted living are fun, festive, and meaningful, but with a twist, as it might mean embracing new traditions.

One thing to watch out for is the added guilt. Caregivers struggle with guilt all the time, but holidays in assisted living can really pile it on. Don’t beat yourself up because things aren’t exactly the way they used to be – that’s out of your control.

What’s important is that you’re doing your best to celebrate together in a way that works for their current situation.

To help you figure out how to celebrate, we’ve got answers to 3 common questions:

  • Should you bring seniors home for a family celebration?

  • What should you do when an older adult is no longer aware of holidays?

  • What festive activities work well in assisted living?

1. Should I bring mom home to celebrate with the rest of the family?

If your mom doesn’t have dementia and you can handle her physical needs and transportation, going to the family home could be a great way to celebrate the holidays. Before deciding, talk with her to see how she feels about it.

She may be concerned about getting too tired or needing help with personal care. Reassure her by explaining how her needs can be met. If she’s feeling shy or afraid that she’ll be a burden during a fun time, remind her of how much the family is looking forward to seeing her.

If your mom does have Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive impairments, it may be disorienting to take her out of a familiar environment. Ask staff members who know her well for their opinion.

Some people with dementia enjoy festive events, but others are easily rattled by changes in routine, loud noise, or crowds. If your mom is likely to get agitated, it might be better to have a quiet celebration in her room or just have a regular visit.

2. My Dad has dementia. This year, he doesn’t seem to know that it’s the holidays. Will he even know or care if I celebrate with him?

Even if your dad doesn’t seem engaged with the world, he’ll still enjoy spending time with you and family. Being in a joyful atmosphere is also something he would enjoy – even if he can’t express it.

The holidays are a perfect time to reminisce over old photos, sing along or listen to holiday music, or admire cheerful decorations. Unless he becomes agitated or upset by the activities or decor, seeing you in the holiday spirit will brighten his day.

3. What activities can I do to celebrate the holidays with someone in assisted living?

If your older adult has dementia, we recommend taking a low-key approach to the holidays. Overstimulating holiday activities or busy decorations could be confusing or cause agitation. Start with a few simple decorations and smaller groups of visitors and see how things go. You can always do more or less depending on how they react.

For seniors without cognitive impairment, find creative ways to help them take part in family celebrations. Reassure your older adult that they won’t be forgotten or abandoned by telling them when you’ll celebrate with them. Be flexible with timing so you can accommodate other family or friend get-togethers.

Try these festive activity suggestions:

  • Decorate their room together – get a mini tree, make a tree-shaped outline on the wall with garland and tape ornaments onto it, put a few decorative items around the room, or hang a wreath on the door

  • Help them think of and purchase gifts for kids or grandkids

  • Arrange a family visit and open presents together – it’s more fun when the whole group has presents to open

  • For family living far away, arrange video chats so they can have virtual visitors

  • Attend a holiday event or meal hosted by the assisted living community

  • Sing along with or listen to holiday songs

  • Watch a holiday-themed movie

  • Work on a holiday-themed puzzle or coloring page

Bottom line

The holidays are about spending quality time with people you care about. Older adults in assisted living will feel loved and included when you find ways to bring the holiday spirit to them.

Article Submitted by: Susan O'Leary

Kensington Gardens, Estate Living Retirement Community

3804 Olson Drive NW, Gig Harbor


Call today for a tour!

#estateliving #holidays #seniors #assistedliving #independentliving #celebratingholidays

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