Debbie Hommel's A.D. Tips
Dedicated to helping Activity Professionals with the daily operation of their department.
by Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, CRTS, Executive Director of DH Special Services
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DEBBIE HOMMEL
Executive Director
DH Special Services
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA,
ACC, CRTS, is the Executive
Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified
Activity Consultant on State
and National level, with over
twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct
care and consultation to long
term care, medical day care,
assisted living, and ICF/MR
facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland,
and Pennsylvania. She is an
experienced trainer and
workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of
seminars throughout the
Tri-State area for the Activity
Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare
professional. Debbie Hommel
is an active member of Activity
Professional Associations on
State and National levels. She
is ACC certified through the
NCCAP. She is a founding
member of the New Jersey
Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as
Vice President and President.
She received the Weidner
Lifetime Achievement Award
in 1994 and the Monmouth &
Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life
Achievement Award in 1999.
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Person Centered Activities and the Holidays
by Debbie Hommel, ACC, CTRS

There has been and continues to be much discussion and emphasis on person
centered care.  Eric Haider,  who is a management consultant specializing in this
philosophy of care and maintains the web site Person Centered Care, provides the
following definition:  “Person centered care honors each person’s dignity, rights, self-
respect, and independence by giving them choices, respecting their wishes, meeting
their needs, involving them in decision making process, giving them the control of their
life and keeping them actively involved, happy and as healthy as possible.   Simply
stated Person Centered Care means focusing on the individual person, what the
individual person wants and how does the individual person want it, all while
enhancing their dignity, self worth and quality of life.  Most activity professionals find an
easy alliance with this “new” philosophy as this is what we have been doing all alone.  

As we approach one of the busiest times of year, we must remind ourselves of what the
elder wants and how to tailor programming and events to their needs and interests.  
Holiday events, which escalate until December 25th, sometime causes distress, mood
changes and anxiety amongst the elders.  What we think is a happy holiday season
may not be the same for the elder population living in long term care communities.  

Person Centered Activity Characteristics

Activities should have meaning to the elder:  Most would have to admit, our society has
commercialized holiday celebrations.  In the past, holidays were family gatherings
meant to recognize important dates, specific people, national events, and religious
practices.  When planning holiday events, the facility needs to view the holiday from the
elder generation’s perspective.   Knowing your elders, how they celebrated December
holidays in the past and re-creating holiday celebrations from their perspective will have
more meaning to the elder.  Slowing down holiday celebrations may also allow more
understanding and enjoyment during such events.   Planning ahead allows for ample
time to enjoy each activity to its fullest.   In some cases, it may be prudent to focus on
fewer activities, enjoying them more - rather than trying to “do it all”.    Cooking and
eating traditional foods associated with holidays and celebrations, contributes to the
individual’s quality of life and self-esteem.  Making and decorating cookies, making
mulled cider, hot chocolate, and other holiday treats is a great source of reminiscing
which enhance meaning of the holiday season.

Activities which reflect the person’s lifestyle and interests:  Holiday traditions and rituals
should focus on the elder’s generation.  Images, songs, and props should reflect the
era of the population.  Many practices and customs from today are far removed from
holiday activities of the past.  This is not to say new customs should be excluded but
introduced in comparison to the older traditions.  Our version of decorating may be
different than how people decorated for the holidays in the past.  Stringing popcorn and
cranberries may bring back many memories of holiday gatherings to the residents.  

Activities that are enjoyable:  The facility should be cautious about over stimulation.  The
holidays are busy times with increased visitors, entertainment, and changes in routine.  
This may prove disturbing for the residents, particularly the cognitively impaired.  
Continuing small groups and familiar programming will contribute to a sense of
continuity.   We may need to be more creative with the many volunteer groups who want
to visit this month.   Having several groups of children, volunteers or church groups
caroling through the halls on any given day can be overwhelming and not enjoyable.  
Possibly having one volunteer group visit one neighborhood (unit or wing) for their visit
would give the visit more meaning.  They could sing their holiday carols but then sit
down with the elders for a holiday social or game.  Most likely the elders would find
sitting and chatting on a 1-1 with the children, church volunteers or community
members more enjoyable - rather than watch them quickly sing and move on to the next
unit.   

Activities that make the person feel useful:   Involving the elders in program planning is
essential.   Planning holiday events is part of the fun.  Involving the residents in menu
planning, selecting entertainment and creating decorations contributes to a sense of
home and community. Anticipation and preparation can be as exciting and meaningful
as the actual event.  Making gifts in crafts would allow the resident to participate in the
season by giving to others.  

Activities that give a sense of belonging:    A concept which has come out of the Person
Centered Care philosophy is the notion of neighborhoods rather than wings or units or
floors.  A neighborhood is a smaller environment where everyone lives and works
together.  If your facility has not embraced this idea as of yet, the holiday season may be
the time to introduce it.  Many facilities call their neighborhood’s comforting names like
“Birchwood” or “Maple Lane”, depending on where the facility is located.  If your facility is
still calling the areas where elders reside “A wing” or “North wing”, why not re-name
them for the holiday.  Try the North or South Pole or Candy Cane Lane.   The staff within
each neighborhood can be involved in decorating and activities for that area.  Keeping
the holiday celebrations within the neighborhood creates a sense of community which
can continue beyond the holiday season.  Consider opportunities to create new rituals.  
Although it may be difficult to practice each elder’s individual tradition and holiday
practice - new rituals may integrate staff, families and elders, creating a new blended
“family”.  

“Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast.”
William Shakespeare