The holiday season is upon us. It’s time to get ready for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve—whatever holidays that you celebrate. If your parent has moved into senior living over the past year, how might that affect your holiday celebration and your long-standing family traditions?
Independent or Assisted Living
Much of this depends upon your parent’s physical and cognitive health and also upon your parent’s living situation. If your parent is in an independent or assisted living community, for instance, you may not need to make many significant adjustments in how you celebrate the holidays. Your mom may have a nice apartment that she can festively decorate for the holiday. She may have to change some of the specifics—i.e., a tabletop Christmas tree instead of a floor-standing version. If some of her favorite holiday décor items no longer fit in her downsized living space, she can pass some of them to you and other family members. That way, they’ll remain with the people she loves.
If you and your mom have had a tradition of baking Thanksgiving pies or Christmas cookies together, there’s no reason the two of you can’t continue with that tradition as long as she’s physically able. You may be able to do the baking in your mom’s independent or assisted living apartment. But if the space isn’t adequate for your needs, you can easily transplant that activity to your home.
On the actual holiday itself, you may wind up hosting the holiday gathering that had previously be held at the home of your parents. Even if your parent is present at this gathering, it’s still an adjustment to transfer the hosting duties from one generation to the next. Make the adjustment easy for Mom or Dad by retaining many of the traditions you established at their home—the same foods, the same type of gift exchange, the same holiday songs, games, and activities.
You may feel a little sad and wistful that the place where you made so many great holiday memories is no longer available to you. However, be heartened by the fact that you’re making new memories for your children, nieces, and nephews. For the younger generation, your home will have the same revered place in their recollections as your parents’ home has for you.
Memory Care or Skilled Nursing
If your parent resides in memory care or skilled nursing, holiday considerations may be more difficult for you and your family. Your dad with dementia may not do well in your home if the holiday gathering is large, loud, and chaotic. A better idea is to have family members visit your parent in the memory care setting. Plan the visit with others in your family, going in small groups on and around the holiday. Giving consideration to your dad’s dementia, take the time to reminisce with him about past holidays. Use visual aids such as photos or videos. Watch a favorite holiday movie together.
You may face similar considerations for your mom who requires 24/7 skilled nursing care. Consider her physical condition and medical needs when making a decision whether a holiday visit should occur at your home or at her nursing home residence. If appropriate, consult with her medical staff and professional caregivers when making the decision. Perhaps a short visit at your home, coupled with a longer visit at the skilled nursing community, will be the best solution.
For your parent in the memory care or skilled nursing setting, do what you can to provide a festive holiday look to your parent’s room. Decorate the space with some familiar holiday décor items. Add comfort with holiday-themed comforters and pillows. Make the room a warm and inviting place to be.
Shared Community Experience
One important aspect of holidays at senior living is the shared community experience, and that’s especially notable during the holidays. Many senior living communities go all out during the holiday season. Celebrating the holidays in senior living typically encompasses festive décor; holiday performances from singers, musicians, and school groups; and holiday-themed crafts or activities.
Often there are parties or other events that families are invited to attend. There also may be religious services scheduled, making it possible for those with physical impairments to celebrate on-site. Join your loved one at these events whenever possible. It’s a way to share a special time with your parent, so even if your schedule is busy, take advantage of these opportunities to be with your parent.
At this time of year, visiting with Mom or Dad shouldn’t be something you just mark off your “to-do” list. Make sure you spend quality time—talking, visiting, sharing a meal, playing a game of cards, or whatever constitutes a memorable moment between the two of you. Curtail other activities in your schedule to make room for those moments. When you think back on this holiday season, you’re not going retain fond memories of the time you spent shopping or preparing dinner. You’re going to remember the time you spent with the people you love.
CHIME IN: How have you adapted your holiday traditions to your parent’s senior living situation?