Illinois Council offers ‘Top Ten List’ for successful visits with seniors during holidays

CHICAGO—The holidays offer families a special opportunity to celebrate common bonds. But what about elderly individuals who live alone or in nursing homes? It is always important to include these individuals in family celebration. By organizing well-planned and enjoyable visits, friends and family members can help elderly people make the 2005 holiday season memorable and meaningful. The Illinois Council on Long Term Care, a state nursing home association, offers its “Top Ten List” on how to make visits with seniors during the holidays more rewarding for everyone involved:

10. Help with holiday decorating—Visitors can help elderly individuals put up a Christmas tree, place decorations on walls, or hang up lights. Decorating could become a fun activity for several generations of a family. For seniors in nursing homes, visitors can bring holiday decorations with them to make these individuals’ rooms more festive and home-like. The elderly person may also enjoy working on a craft project, such as creating an ornament for the Christmas tree or a stocking to hang on the fireplace. A simple craft activity would be a fun project for the senior to do with children.

9. Tape stories or create a life story book—Seniors have a wealth of interesting stories to share. Consider tape-recording these stories for future generations to enjoy. Or, try creating a life story book, consisting of photographs, announcements, newspaper clippings, memorabilia and text placed in a three-ring binder that showcases the senior’s life history.

8. Bring in photo albums or other memorabilia—During a visit, consider bringing in family photo albums as a way to spark conversation, including pictures of holidays past. Provide meaningful pieces of memorabilia that will elicit positive memories, such as small antique items, a coin collection, a favorite book, or other objects that reflect the background and the interests of the individual.

7. Assist with writing holiday cards or letters—Because of arthritis and vision impairments, many elderly find it difficult to write cards and letters. During the holidays, consider helping an elderly person prepare cards for family and friends. It may be beneficial to volunteer reading letters the elderly person has received and offering to transcribe any replies back. In the nursing home, the elderly person may find it challenging to get needed supplies, so consider bringing cards, stationery, pens and stamped envelopes.

6. Organize a visit or call from clergy—This holiday season marks a good opportunity to organize a visit or even a phone call between a senior and a favorite clergy member, especially if they haven’t had a recent opportunity to visit. They can also discuss news in the congregation, describe this year’s holiday events or simply catch up.

5. Bring in a recipe book and plan several menus—Many seniors have a long history of holiday entertaining and would enjoy dispensing advice on what to prepare for holiday menus. Bring in some cookbooks and review the various recipes. It may be a fun activity to bring in food supplies for preparing holiday fixings together, such as preparing no-bake cookies with a person who lives in a nursing home.

4. Listen to favorite music tapes or old-time radio shows—Bring in some of the elderly person’s favorite music, including holiday music from the artists of years past, and listen to it together during a visit. A tape player would be a wonderful gift for a senior who doesn’t already own one. A creative approach would be to visit the local library to check out audiotapes of old-time radio shows, such as Amos and Andy, Jack Benny, or Fibber McGee and Molly. Holding a carol sing-along and recording it would be another memorable way to mark the holiday season.

3. Do some holiday shopping from catalogs—If the elderly person is unable to go out shopping, bring the shopping to them. Take over a variety of catalogs and peruse the pages for holiday gifts. Ask for advice on what to get for various members of the family. Assist the senior in making his or her own purchases.

2. Read out loud from newspapers, magazines or church Bulletins—As elderly people may have hardships with reading, consider reading out loud articles from the person’s favorite newspapers and magazines. Large-print books and periodicals make wonderful gifts for seniors during the holidays. Church bulletins can also serve as an excellent source of conversation.

1. Listen, listen, listen—Probably the most important piece of advice is to truly listen to the words the senior person has to say and hear the feelings behind these words. Too often, visitors end up doing most of the talking during a visit, because they feel uncomfortable and may be in a rush to get several things done that day. Taking the time to really listen is one of the most generous gifts we can offer to an elderly person, helping this individual to feel appreciated, valued and loved. If the person is unwilling or unable to talk, holding a hand or giving a hug goes a long, long way.

While visits during the holidays are very important, don’t forget about the rest of the year! It is important that family and friends take an active role in helping seniors who live alone or in nursing homes feel valued and appreciated. Consider buying a calendar for the elderly person for the year 2006, and marking down dates planned for future visits.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2005, issue

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