When recently touring a Senior Residence preparing for the upcoming holidays, one thing became glaringly obvious: the holiday activities that were planned had little to do with each individual resident and far more to do with keeping residents “busy”. Busy does not mean engaged, and operators often tend to come up with activities without thinking about the need to allow seniors to celebrate their holidays with genuine personal input. As Christmas trees and Menorahs are being placed throughout residences, often they are beautifully decorated with color-coordinated and themed decorations; they look lovely but might mean little to the people living there. How much more meaningful it would be if the residents could make their own clay ornaments, (self-drying clay and cookie cutters makes this an easy project) and add them to the tree during a decorating party. No, they wouldn’t make touring visitors gasp at the beauty of the tree, but they might bring smiles to the faces of the residents and families when they realize that each ornament represents a beautiful reminder of a Christmas past. Decorating a tree with items that are relevant gives people a feeling of ownership in a celebration and a feeling peace in continuing a familiar tradition. Similarly, operators might come up with a variety of crafts and projects that seniors could make or bake to give as gifts to their families. Having choices of wrapping paper, or letting them make their own wrappings, would make the gifts very personal expressions of their love, and residents could socialize as they are provided with time to wrap presents together.
It’s important to allow people to continue to own their holidays, no matter what their age. Instead of operators deciding on which holiday movies to show, they might have residents write down their favorites, then select several nights to show the ones that were most often mentioned. People love to share their holiday memories and traditions; seniors should be given a chance to tell their stories about how they celebrated holidays in the past. And any or all of these activities can include family members if desired.
Holidays should inspire a warm, comforting feeling; they are a yearly reminder of the many reasons for joy. Allowing for opportunities to decorate, to plan, and to give to others make the holiday season so much more meaningful. It’s lovely to have school groups come in and sing carols, but residents can also gather and walk the halls caroling on their own or perhaps they and the children can carol together. Let our seniors make a joyful noise, a creative mess, a lopsided tree ornament, or a slightly misshapen cookie. Not only will it give them a chance to relive memories of the past, but it is an opportunity to create new memories and to continue to grow as human beings.