I spent a year as a private caregiver in a nursing facility. I saw so much that hurt my heart everyday but during the holidays it was so much worse. This article is based on what I observed during those shifts. There are thousands of seniors languishing on the third floor of nursing homes that need someone to care about them and make them feel loved. They need to be touched, to be hugged, and to feel they are not just a throw away that no one cares about.
There are three floors to most retirement homes. The first floor is where most of the elderly need little help and are still independent. When they get to a certain assistance level where they need too much help, they are moved down to the 2nd floor. When the client becomes seriously ill or loses mental capacity they are moved down to the 3rd foor where most of them stay until they pass away. This 3rd floor is called Skilled Nursing and includes the dementia section where they are locked up.
The 3rd floor is where the real Christmas cheer is needed. Life on the 3rd floor is pretty grim in the best of these places. There are many seniors living down on the 3rd floor that rarely gets visitors. These are the patients who are dying, bedridden, seriously ill or mentally ill. This floor get the least visitors because there are patients crying out, patients who are dying, and are in the worst of conditions. The unpleasant smells and noises are hard on the heart and mind. This is where you can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
Visit a care facility near you and ask the nurses for the names of several patients who don’t have family or visitors. Tell the nursing staff of your plans and have one of the nurses introduce you initially to these seniors. Keeping mind of your time and money, then adopt one or more of these seniors for the holidays. Treat them as you would if there were family.
Here are some ideas on how to brighten their life during the holidays and all year long:
Bring cookies or some special food they normally don’t get to eat. Do get permission from the nursing staff first. Find out if they have any dietary restrictions first. Often the staff will permit special food treats during the holidays.
Take them out to the garden area or to one of the events going on within the nursing home. The nursing staff does not usually have time to individually take them out for garden outings because of the time it takes and lack of staff.
Play a game with them or help them with a simple project. The Activities Director can help you with picking something that is fun and won’t frustrate them..
Bring them a little Christmas present each time you come. It does not have to cost much, just something for them to open and look forward to. It could be a magazine, book, hand lotion, personal care item, stuffed animal or a plant.
Play some music; sing for them or with them. If you have talent along those lines, set up a time to give the whole group on the 3rd floor a treat.
Read to them or share a magazine with them. For the seniors with severe dementia, make sure the magzine has lots of pictures in it such as The National Geographic. They also enjoy travel magazines,animal magazines, bird magazines, or anything with pictures. Remember that with severe dementia patients lose the ability to understand words or articles so pictures will make them smile. Sharing family pictures is enjoyed as well. Note that they will not remember who people or events minutes later. Help them by saying,” This is Uncle Joe or Aunt Wilma who live in San Diego.” so they are not frustrated. Don’t ask them too many questions for most of them can’t recall the information or answer them which makes them upset. If they lose details and have events wrong, just let it go. Remember, it is the sharing of time that they need.
Bring them one of the old movie classics to watch and spend the time to enjoy it with them.
Bring them a poinsettia or small Christmas tree, either real or artificial if their room does not have enough light. Decorate their room for the holidays.
Take them out if they are able to a religious Christmas music performance. Take a wheel chair even if they don’t usually need one. There is a lot of walking at these events and they can get pretty weak by the end of the night.
Knit them a lap warmer, shall, quilt or some warm socks. Seniors who are ill often have poor circulation and are often cold.
Take your children or your pet to visit them to give them cheer. Many of them have grand children they rarely see. Always get permission from the staff first and find out the best timing for these visits.
Take them to see the Christmas lights in your city. This can be enjoyed even by the ones who are not mobile and can do little else.
Give lots of hugs and love as often as possible. Always ask them if you can give them a hug. If they have cancer or arthritis, they may have areas painful to the touch and you need to know that.
Stuffed animals are very popular with the elderly, especially in the form of dogs or cats. Many of the seniors carry around stuffed animals because it helps relieve their loneliness, anxiety, and soothes them.
Surprise them a beauty treatment, wash and style their hair so it looks pretty and paint their nails,
If it is possible, take them for an outing to your home for part of a day to enjoy some real family activity.
Take them to see their friends that are home bound and are not in a position to visit them in the nursing home.
What you do for them will depend on their physical state, the severity of the illness or dementia, and how mobile they are. All the activities above can be creatively programed to work.
Adopting seniors should be a year round gift of your time, not just at the holidays. So often, the staff is short handed and does not have enough time to do more than make sure they fed, get their meds, and are clean. There is little time to give them the personal attention, they would receive if they had family. It is one area of service that is needed no matter where you live.