Planning Holiday Visits for Seniors in Long-Term Care

Seniors living in long-term care residences may not easily be able to join family and friends for celebrations in their homes or at a restaurant due to mobility restrictions, fatigue, a strict medical schedule or dementia.  But there are creative ways to make sure older adults living away from home are included in holiday and family gatherings.

Many long-term care facilities have common rooms which can be booked for small get-togethers.  Check well in advance for availability as these facilities tend to be reserved quickly during holidays like Christmas and New Years.  Ask in advance to see if a piano, CD player or TV can be provided for family sing-alongs or a slide show.

Some residences also have a private dining room that can be reserved and dinner provided to a small or medium-sized gathering.  Food can be catered or in some cases the facility itself will have a private dining menu.

Consider having larger family gatherings at a local accessible community center where family of all ages will have room to move and visit freely.   The workload on multi-generational caregivers can be substantially lessened with a well-organized pot-luck dinner at a single location.   Be sure to book ahead for accessible transportation.

Families sharing the holidays with a senior suffering from dementia may find it helpful to avoid over-stimulation and keep visits relatively low-key.  A back-up plan such as playing familiar holiday music, classic movies or providing a simple craft activity may offer relief from agitation.

Sometime short and sweet is the best kind of visit.  Older adults who tire easily may benefit from several shorter visits during the holidays rather than one long exhausting day.  Write down when you plan to return or the time and date other family members are scheduled to visit to avoid confusion or anxiety.

There is no one perfect solution but planning ahead will ensure the holidays are enjoyed by all ages and things run relatively smoothly.  When visiting a loved-one in long-term care, try to be considerate of roommates and other residents.  A small gift for a roommate may smooth over any ruffled feathers and try to take the party outside the bedroom if possible to allow for privacy.  Seniors in care facilities will often enjoy a change of scenery in a common area of the residence.    Most of all, be flexible.  Elderly adults may have an off day or become tired easily; look for clues when it may be time to wrap things up and leave on a happy note.