By Megan M. Krischke, contributor
December 2, 2010 - Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility can be a lonely experience. That sense of loneliness can seem more acute during the holiday season—a time that is traditionally filled with friends and families. But caring nurses, along with other staff, are working hard to make the holidays brighter for their long-term residents.
At River Valley Nursing Home in Butler, Ky., the holiday season begins with a Thanksgiving appetizer and dessert night for residents and their families. There is an opportunity for residents to go Christmas caroling. The residents load into a van and, with windows down, ride around singing to residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“On December 1st, we begin decorating each wing for the holidays and the residents help the staff put up all the trimmings and the three Christmas trees,” said Truly Pennington, RN, BSN, director of nursing at River Valley. “One of the three trees is an angel tree where residents can request a gift such as a favorite shampoo, lotion, perfume or cologne. The staff and residents’ families choose names from the tree and buy gifts out of their personal budgets.”
Families are invited to the Christmas party to share in eggnog, hot chocolate and singing.
“If the staff are working the day of our Christmas party they can present the gift to the resident they chose,” Pennington remarked. “The gifts from the staff are really heartfelt and deeply appreciated by the residents, especially those who don’t really have family outside the facility.”
“Santa always makes an appearance at the party, which is a big hit, especially for our mentally delayed residents who still hold their childhood belief in Santa,” she continued. “Our Santa is the son of a resident of ours who passed away a couple of years ago and he really looks the part. He still comes because this place meant so much to his mother—he and his wife always leave with tears in their eyes.”
River Valley also goes the extra mile to make sure their residents can attend celebrations away from the facility.
“One woman in our care held a high level position with the IRS where she worked for many years. So, for the past five years, she has collaborated with the nurses to pick out an outfit and jewelry and we take her to their company Christmas party.”
One unique aspect of River Valley’s holiday celebrations is that they look beyond their own residents when working to spread the joy of the season. The facility adopts several families in their community, holds a Christmas party for them at the facility and provides each family with food for a holiday feast. Residents join in by asking their own families to bring items for the adopted families.
“All the celebrations do create extra work for the nurses, but we love it. It makes us as happy as it makes the residents. Each year the staff can’t wait to decorate the trees and pick names for gift giving,” said Pennington.
The Cokesbury Village facility in Hockessin, Del., is a campus made up of residents ranging from those in an independent living situation to those who require skilled nursing care. Cokesbury strives to include residents from all levels of the village in activities, which allows for continuing friendships among residents. Not only does Cokesbury regularly bring in a variety of outside entertainers and local school choirs for Christmas celebrations, residents of the independent living facility also volunteer to provide holiday music.
“All of our holiday decorations are hand-made by the residents during crafts sessions and they help with decorating the facility starting right after Thanksgiving. One of our trees is a ‘thank you’ tree where residents cut colored paper and write a note to the staff thanking them for what they do,” said Yin Ingles, RN, BA, director of health services at Cokesbury Village. “Our nurses always work with the same set of residents, so while we don’t have any formal gift exchange between staff and residents, it isn’t uncommon for nurses to bring Christmas gifts for the residents in their care.”
Cokesbury also has a Christmas party, which like all their activities, strives to accommodate residents from all three levels of the village and involve families. One of the residents from the independent living facility dons the Santa costume and greets residents and their families as they arrive at the party.
“Our holiday celebrations aren’t just about Christmas. We try to honor each individual’s beliefs and do a celebration for every holiday,” stated Ingles. “You can’t just rely on the activity directors; activity is everyone’s responsibility and it is great to get residents from the different levels of the facility involved in creating the celebrations.”
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