“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go,” sings a traditional refrain. Yet, not every visit to see our loved ones goes as well as we hope. During the holidays, many people visit their loved ones in their senior housing home to spread good cheer, participate in seasonal activities, and celebrate the love of friends and family. Some of these holiday visitors include children who may be unprepared for the realities of a long-term care setting. Visiting a senior care environment can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience for young and old alike. With a little forethought and planning, you can make your visit a successful one.
Tips for a happy holiday visit
Here are few insights to consider as you plan your holiday visits:
• Talk with your children about what to expect during the visit, such as seeing residents in wheelchairs or others who may be unresponsive. Answer any questions or concerns your children may have. Discuss their feelings about visiting older adults.
• Stop by the children’s section of your local bookstore. There are several good children’s books available that address understanding the elderly. Reading this type of book with young children can help in making them more comfortable during your visit.
• Try to plan the visit a week or two in advance. The best times to visit are generally mid-morning, mid-afternoon and early evening. Be sure to contact the elder or the elder’s caregiver to ask him or her what time of the day would be best. This is especially important for loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
• Think ahead of time about some possible activities that could involve the elder and the children. Bring any needed supplies with you to the visit. By participating in an activity, the children will feel more comfortable, engaged, and will walk away having had a better experience. (Creative activity ideas are listed below.)
• During their visits, children may need some gentle encouragement to overcome their shyness. The parent can offer some questions to get the conversation going, such as asking their kids to discuss their hobbies or participation in school sports teams. Young children could introduce their favorite toys to an elder as an icebreaker.
• After the visit, talk about how it went and how everyone felt. Be sure to answer any of their questions openly and honestly.
Holiday activities to share
Here are some creative activity suggestions for the visit, including many that are holiday-focused:
• Help decorate your elder’s living space for the holidays.
• Sing familiar holiday songs. Bring along some song sheets and a music playing device.
• Read a favorite book together, including holiday stories. If possible, bring a large print book.
• Make simple tree ornaments or other craft projects. Keeping the project simple and manageable for everyone will help avoid frustration or confusion.
• Put together a small scrapbook of family photographs.
• Participate in one of the Weatherly Inn’s activity programs together. Contact Weatherly Inn to discuss upcoming events.
• Play cards, checkers, matching games or board games according to your loved one’s abilities. If you are unsure contact a Weatherly Inn caregiver.
• Look over family photo albums to spark memories and conversation. Or, take some new family photographs together at the facility.
• Do an activity together related to your loved one’s faith, such as reading stories from a religious text such as the Bible.
• Bring in items related to the elder’s interests. For instance, for a loved one who is a car buff, the children could bring in model cars, car magazines, or glossy dealership brochures. Have the children use these items to spark conversation.
• Have the children bring a small gift for their loved one. Possible gifts could include hand lotion, brushes, combs, note cards, framed family pictures, or large print books.
• Have the children “interview” their elderly relatives about their lives. Work together with the kids ahead of time to prepare a list of questions. Consider recording these responses on videotape or audiocassette.
Most importantly, don’t make the holiday visit just a one-time experience. Both the elder and the children would benefit greatly from continuing these visits throughout the year. An ongoing series of visits allows for a true relationship to develop, helping adult children and grandchildren to connect with the elderly in many meaningful ways. We wish you joy-filled holiday visits with your loved ones.