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article from LancasterOnline, Nov. 29, 2017
Rochelle A. Shenk, LNP Correspondent

Families often have holiday traditions they observe. The host or hostess of the family gathering will consider those traditions as well as the guest list in organizing the event. But what if one of those family members is in assisted living or skilled care? What’s the best way to make their holiday special?

“The holidays are the most wonderful time of year, but it can be a difficult time for people in assisted living or skilled care,” says Michele Tornabe, administrator at Mount Hope Nazarene Retirement Community, Manheim. “The best gift you can give is yourself and your love. Bless them with your presence.”

Faith Hoover, director of adult day services at Lands Homes (pictured left), says to be aware of your relative’s needs, and to make changes based on those needs

“Being in assisted living or skilled nursing care is an adjustment for your relative as well as the family,” adds Regina Cabezas, a social worker at Landis Homes (pictured right). “It’s important to consider your relative’s health, dietary and emotional needs. Flexibility is a key word for the family.”

She suggests discussing the holidays with your relative ahead of time. “If that person was the one who had hosted the family gathering or made a special dish, ask them if they would like to be involved in preparing for this year’s event and what they would like to do,” Cabezas says. “Some things like peeling potatoes don’t have to be done standing; they can be done sitting, if necessary.”

If the person has mobility issues, be sure to consider things such as transporting them to and from the care facility, and how much assistance they may need getting in or out of the car and into your home. Cabezas also reminds hosts to consider issues such as restroom needs. Can your bathroom or powder room accommodate a wheelchair? Does your relative need assistance transferring from the wheelchair to the toilet?

“If you’re concerned about how well you can handle your relative’s needs, you can do a ‘test run’ ahead of time,” Hoover says.

There may come a time when the person in the care facility is no longer able to leave the facility for family holiday gatherings. In that case, Tornabe says families can bring the party to them, and bring the things they love. The care facility may have a private room where the family can gather. Preparing an entire meal isn’t necessary, Cabezas says, but if there’s a dish that happens to be part of the family’s holiday tradition, it could be prepared and shared.

Tornabe adds that most retirement communities and care facilities have holiday activities, and families are welcome to share them with their relatives.

Local churches often visit Mount Hope Nazarene during the holidays to bring cheer to residents. A special part of the community’s holiday celebrations is the angel tree that’s placed by Grace Point Church of the Nazarene, Ephrata. It’s decorated with angels that contain a resident’s name and some gift suggestions under $25. She explains that people are encouraged to take an angel, purchase an item and then place the wrapped gift under the tree.

On Dec. 21, residents will gather around the tree to enjoy cookies, cocoa and a holiday-themed skit before receiving the gifts. “Everyone opens their gift at the same time. We end by singing Christmas carols. It’s a really festive time,” she says.

If you’re exchanging gifts with a relative in either assisted living or nursing care, there are also some things to consider.

“Think about the gifts you give; the peanut brittle someone loved 20 years ago might not be the best thing for them now, especially if they have dentures,” Tornabe says.

Hoover suggests giving a special shampoo or lotion, or even a special treat the person likes, such as a slice of a favorite pie. She also reminds family members that the person in a care facility may still want to give gifts.

“Figure out what traditions they would like to continue doing,” she says. “If they always liked to send cards, you can help facilitate that. Ask what cards they need, purchase them or bring a box of cards and have the person write whatever note they’d like and sign them. You can help address them and make sure they get mailed.”

If your loved one has dementia, there are some other things to consider during the holidays.

Before the relative arrives, have a conversation with family members, especially those who may not have seen the person in a while, about possible changes they may notice, Cabezas says.

“Family members should be prepared and realize that the relative may not know their name,” she says. “Be sure to greet the person and tell them your name and relationship; it makes them feel less stress and more comfortable.”

Reminiscing is often part of a family holiday gathering. Cabezas suggests that when talking with someone who has dementia, using the phrase, “I remember,” rather than asking, “Do you remember?” will cause less stress.

“As a family, it’s important to realize that their needs come first,” she says.

Both she and Hoover suggest having a quiet room available for your relative to rest. “Families can be pretty noisy when they’re all together. For some people, the hubbub can get to be too much, and they need a break or they may tire easily,” Hoover says. “If they have a quiet place to go, they will appreciate it. If they need someone to be with them, family members can take turns.”

While flowers can help brighten the day of a relative in assisted living or skilled care, Cabezas advises caution when sending or bringing flowers to someone with dementia. Some flowers can cause serious problems if ingested, she says, so it’s a good idea to find out if the care facility has restrictions.

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