Managing a bah humbug holiday season

By now many of us have viewed the viral video of residents gleefully shooting soft foam balls at laughing staff members dressed as reindeer dodging through a pine-tree “forest.”

It’s the kind of merriment suitable for the 2020 holidays — one that uses humor and playful defiance to release pent-up frustrations.

Under normal circumstances, spending the holidays at a nursing home is difficult, but the extended separation from families is hitting hard. In the past, I’ve counseled residents who were disappointed that their usual celebrations had been reduced to a four-hour home pass or a fruitcake-laden visit from grandchildren. This year is exponentially more challenging.

In addition to the grief of the residents, it’s the first time the staff members have been all but banned from seeing their loved ones as well. After a period of unprecedented loss and change, postponing large family gatherings is particularly painful.

Yes, we’re on the cusp of vaccine distribution. Meanwhile, there’s a dark holiday season before the dawn of a post-vaccinated world.


The efforts of workers to brighten the mood with festive décor and physically distanced events is truly impressive. Adding in a few options like “deer-hunting” can give residents a safe way to vent frustrations, mixing a little naughty with their nice.

I’m thinking white balloon “snowball” fights in the day room. Setting up rows of dominoes and watching them collapse in organized destruction. Competitive games. Writing snarky lyrics to holiday songs as a group and singing them together. Bashing a 2020 pinata to bring in 2021.

It’s also a good time to add in more physical activities like chair yoga, dance parties and exercise classes.


Staff members, who may be running on fumes by this point in a very difficult year, might also enjoy similar pursuits in their off hours. These unusual circumstances may also be an opportunity for us to give ourselves permission to lower expectations and to ask for help.

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