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Dedicated to helping Activity Professionals with the daily operation of their department.
by Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, Executive Director of DH Special Services.
The Activity Director's Office
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Integrating the Holiday “Spirit” into Activity Programming
For Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease

The holiday season is a busy time, full of sights, sounds and smells of the season.  For
most, it creates feelings of excitement and anticipation.  For individuals with Alzheimer’s
Disease or dementia, the changes in routine and increased activity can provoke anxiety
and emotional stress.    Memory loss does not change the need however, to feel the
positive emotions of the holidays – to feel connected and useful, give and receive love,
to give thanks and feel appreciated,  and maintain a sense of hope.  While the desire for
holiday and spiritual fulfillment remains in individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and
dementia, the ability to initiate and tolerate fulfilling activities is diminishing.  Following is
a list of suggestions for keeping the holiday spirit in activities for residents with dementia
without creating additional stress in their lives.

*Maintain daily routines.  Integrating the holiday activities into familiar routines will allow
the elder with dementia to feel comfortable within a routine and tolerate the change in

*Keep traditions and rituals focused on the resident’s generation and past.  Many
practices and customs from today are far removed from holiday activities in the past.  
Our version of decorating is very different than how people decorated for the holidays in
the past.  

*Through reminiscence programs, our elders can recall past life roles and make sense of
past events in their lives.  The bonding that occurs during reminiscent experiences allows
all involved to form connections that last beyond the reminiscing experience.   To
increase response during reminiscence programs, introduce the use of props (similar to
the sensory basket).  However, props in the reminiscent basket can be more complex
such as miniature trees or wreaths, and more detailed holiday/winter scenes for viewing
and discussion.

*Cooking activities can involve the elder in nurturing and supportive experiences.  
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 and discussion.

*Music plays a significant role in any holiday gathering.  Playing familiar carols with artists
from their generation can provoke many memories.  

*Drama programs would allow the elder to re-create religious and holiday stories.  
Conducting a live Christmas pageant is a popular and successful activity.   

*Create a familiar worship area for holiday worship services:  play church bells over the
loud speaker to announce the beginning of church; create an alter, with holly boughs or
evergreens; play taped or live organ music while elders are transported to the room;
create a quiet, hushed atmosphere; and arrange the chairs in aisle fashion.  Hang
symbols associated with religious practice such as the Star of David, devotional pictures
and display religious statues in the area. A clergy in robes will provide a visual cue for

*Introduce opportunities for comfort and solace through touch.  Feeling connected and
acknowledged as an individual, appreciates the real self or the spirit of the elder.  Create
a holiday sensory basket for the very impaired resident which might include pine boughs
for aroma; visuals of old fashioned Santas or the manger scene; small wrapped gifts for
touch; a red, velvet stocking for touch, familiar holiday carols, sung by singers from their
past and peppermint sticks for taste.

*As much as we hate to say no or decline volunteers, services or visitors – sometimes we
need to.  Having two and three groups of children, volunteers or church groups going
through the halls caroling on a given day may be too overwhelming.  Limiting such visits
to once a day may be necessary.  Rather than discourage the volunteers, schedule them
for an alternate unit or request they schedule their visit for January or February.  
"Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to
the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the
old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport
the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!"
~Charles Dickens
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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