Creative Nursing Home Holidays

The holidays can be a difficult time of year, especially for residents in nursing homes. Many residents once hosted family gatherings, or were regulars at a holiday event, but now their physical disability complicates their participation in familiar rituals. Last year I wrote a post on this topic from the residents’ point of view, ‘Twas the Week Before Christmas…. This year I’m hoping to gather creative ways family members have come together to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, despite the challenges of physical limitations. Here I offer a few suggestions, and hope you’ll add your ideas and experiences to the Comments section below.
A few years ago, my Aunt Bevy wasn’t feeling well enough to join us for our annual family gathering, so my cousins and I stopped by with leftovers and a quiet chat after the festivities. I know she appreciated that visit, especially since it was the first time she’d ever missed our party.
Most residents would like to be at the home of a family member to celebrate the season, but once they’re in the nursing home, it’s not as simple as picking them up at the door. With some advance planning, the physicians can write out the home pass orders, and the nurses can gather the necessary medications and provide instructions so loved ones can spend a few hours with the family.
If the holidays will be spent in a home that’s not wheelchair accessible, the family could gather for a separate meal in an accessible restaurant, or some members could join the resident for dinner at the nursing home.
If a resident is on a special diet, such as puree, for example, a variety of pureed soups and puddings could be offered, as recommended by the dietary department.
I once knew a man who wasn’t able to eat and was on a tube feed. At Thanksgiving, he and his children gathered at the nursing home for a gratitude ceremony, sharing aloud the things they were grateful for that year, and the qualities they treasured in each other. It wasn’t the Thanksgiving everyone was used to, but they’d created a ritual that fit for their new circumstances.

5 thoughts on “Creative Nursing Home Holidays”

  1. Dr. El,

    In my experience, some facilities host Thanksgiving Day dinners where family members may pay to cover the cost of the meal. One facility I worked in had a general policy of charging a small fee for any meal served to a visitor (whether or not it was a holiday meal). There are also facilities which may have rooms or areas which may be reserved for private or semi-private gatherings. Visitors may be able to bring in food to eat with their loved one. To go home, or out of the facility for special events, is probably the biggest treat for many residents and when feasible, is optimal. For residents who are unable, or where circumstance prevents them from going out, either the resident or family should inquire about the options available to them. A good place to start is either with the Social Worker or Recreation Director.

  2. At my mother's nursing home, residents may invite up to six family members to join them for Thanksgiving dinner–traditional turkey served in the dining room, with musical entertainment. It sounds like a festive event (she's relatively new there). She is still able to get out, but just barely. It is reassuring to know we have this option in the future.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Sue and Anonymous. I've seen nursing homes create some special holiday gatherings over the years, and they've been very satisfying, emotionally and gastronomically, to the residents and families.

    I think it's important for families to discuss the holidays in advance, so the residents know what to expect, whether it's an on-campus or off-campus event, on the day of, or rescheduled to a more convenient time.

  4. We just had our Thanksgiving celebration at my Nursing Center. The facility provided the basic meal and the families brought pot luck contributions which were laid out as a buffet. The residents that didn't want to attend, still got the base meal. Then the real party started later with the families arrived. The Administrator and DON even stayed to join the festivities. Everyone I talked to had a good time.

  5. That sounds great, K. Tree! It reminds me of the pot luck holidays we used to have at the psychiatric center. The staff cooked food, served it to the patients, and then hung out together and sampled the international fare. It was delicious and a lot of fun.


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