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by Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC,
Executive Director of
DH Special Services.
Keeping the Home in the Holidays

The holiday season is usually a happy time.  We look forward to spending time with family and friends,
some whom we haven’t seen in ages.  Attending parties and special gatherings, eating traditional foods
and reminiscing about happy times is something we all anticipate with joy.  However, for the elderly living in
long term care facilities, the holiday season may bring feelings of sadness related to losses associated
with facility living.  The increased festivities may remind the resident they are not in the familiar
surroundings of their home and cannot celebrate the holidays as they had in the past.  Additionally, the
changes in routine and extra activity often causes anxiety and more confusion amongst our elders with

In order to ensure residents are able to enjoy holiday celebrations, the facility staff can consider the
following suggestions:

-  Be ever mindful of residents who may not have a strong support network of family or friends.  Creating a
“Secret Pal” program or “Adopt a Resident” program can ensure all residents have special visitors and
attention during this busy time of year.  In this program, the staff select a resident as their “secret pal” prior
to the start of the holiday season.  This allows the staff member to pay special attention to their “pal” during
this busy time of year.  A “Secret Pal” social can be incorporated into the holiday schedule, where the “pal”  
is revealed to the resident.  

-  Consider opportunities to create new rituals.  Although it may be difficult to practice each resident’s
individual tradition and holiday practice - new rituals may provide residents with happiness.  Shared
emotions are at the root of every ritual.  Facility staff can introduce an activity that can represent these
emotions and begin new traditions involving  the facility “family”.      

- Monitor residents for subtle signs of depression.  Increased depression during the holidays is not
uncommon.  Increased tearfulness, decreased appetite,  or withdrawal from daily programming may be
noticeable to the caregiver.   Immediate interventions should be offered to provide support and comfort.   It
should not be assumed that once the holidays are over, the resident will return to normal.   

-  Involve the residents in program planning.   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.   Anticipation  and preparation are as important as the actual event.

-  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.  Providing small and familiar programming on the units will contribute to a sense of

-  Holiday programming offers the activity professional many opportunities for theme based activities.  
Crafts, cooking, discussion groups, reminiscence programs, word games as well as parties can focus on
holiday traditions and practices.  Planning ahead allows for ample time to enjoy each activity to it’s fullest.  
In some cases, it may be prudent to focus on fewer activities, enjoying them more - rather than trying to “do
it all”.  

-Make the most of all those volunteers and visitors who like to come in the month of December.   Many will
agree to return after the holidays  - if we just ask.   While thanking them for  their visit, mention that
community  programs  are welcome during the rest of the year.   Have a ready list of suggested year-round
programs such as sponsoring a bingo game, hosting a monthly social or game party to share as they
leave.  Even if only one third of the volunteers who visit in December agree to visit again in the New Year,
you have increased your volunteer program.  

-Finally, take care of yourself.   Our departments often get caught up in decorating the facility, arranging
parties and making sure we have enough gifts.     The residents sometimes gets overlooked in the
process.  Celebrating the joy in the holiday moments with your residents is what it is all about.   

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

Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, 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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