Debbie Hommel's A.D. Tips
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by Debbie Hommel, BA, ACC, CTRS, Executive Director of DH Special Services
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Executive Director
DH Special Services
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, ACC,
CTRS, 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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in Long Term Care Settings

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Home for the Holidays
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

The holiday season is a festive time of year, with increased activity and excitement. For
many this is a special time, generating happy memories and anticipation. However, for
individuals with dementia or those living in a long term care setting - it can be an
unsettling time.  Holiday celebrations are part of everyone’s lives. For the elder, living in
a long term care community, it is a normal reaction to feel sad, anxious or angry with the
changes in routine and surroundings.  Not being able to celebrate as one is
accustomed to; not having access to a lifetime collection of decorations, china, linens,
recipes; not having familiar family and friends nearby; and not having the freedom or
independence to pursue holiday tasks of shopping, baking or decorating can contribute
to a wide gamut of feelings in the individual, with or without dementia.  

Some facilities have suggested maintaining a “seasonless” environment which means
a lack of seasonal décor, maintaining daily and weekly routines and minimal
acknowledgement of holidays and seasons.  Many do not agree with this approach for
obvious reasons.  One of the goals of long term care living is to create a home.  At
home, we celebrate and acknowledge seasonal and holiday and personal life events.  
To ignore that life long practice, takes away from the feeling of home.  The challenge we
face as caregivers, is to introduce holiday celebrations in just the right way that
minimizes stress amongst the residents.     

Here are some suggestions to keep the home in the holidays:

-  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 and sometimes more fun than the actual event.

-  Create new rituals as a facility family.  Although it may be difficult to practice each
resident’s individual holiday tradition - new rituals may provide residents with
happiness.  Shared emotions are at the root of every ritual.  Introducing collective
activities, created by residents, families and staff, is the start of new traditions involving
the facility “family”.

-  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.   We need to
accept that we just may not “fit it all” into the schedule.  It is better to enjoy fewer
activities more fully, rather than many activities in a hurry.  

-Ensure a holiday approach from the elder’s perspective.  In the past, holiday
celebrations were less commercial and focused on the reason for the holiday.  Keep
that in mind while planning events.  Making holiday decorations, re-visiting traditional
celebratory events, and staying focused on the true meaning of each holiday would
more effectively meet the needs of the residents.

-        Don’t forget residents who may not have a strong support network of family or
friends.  Creating a “Secret Santa” program can ensure all residents have special
visitors and attention during this busy time of year.

-        Be sensitive to any signs and symptoms of sadness.  If you notice that a normally
chipper resident is looking a little blue, take the time to validate their feelings.  With
some special attention, personalized reminiscence and emotional support, this
resident can often feel better.   

-  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 some particularly the cognitively impaired resident.  Providing small and
familiar programming on the units will contribute to a sense of continuity.

-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.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a page on their web site for family members called
“Alzheimer families and the holidays: Tips to enjoy the season” which can be found at

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great
occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness."
~ Bob Hope, American film actor and comedian.