Millions of Americans will spend the holiday season as residents in a nursing home or assisted living facility, and nearly all have a disability. Many of these facilities do everything humanly possible to help make their residents happy. But they can do only so much.
“For example, we provide various holiday programs for residents,” said “Sara,” an administrator of a Midwest nursing home and assisted living facility. She preferred anonymity. “And on these holidays, (the residents) don’t have to worry about the family members they don’t have giving them the holiday attention they need.”
Sara believed fully two-thirds of her nursing home residents received few if any regular family visits. It was especially sad for her, she said, when seeing residents with three or four adult children living nearby never visiting their mom or dad.
So why don’t family members often visit?
“The stigma of being in a nursing home is hard for some families and community members to overcome,” she said. “Some people are terrified of just coming into the building. Primarily, they have fears of being unable to communicate. They feel uncomfortable. They will tell me they don’t know what to say and that their mom or dad no longer knows who they are.”
Sara said her staff throughout the day has a great deal of personal contact with residents, including meals, special events, and dispensing medication, but those human contact points, again, can do only so much. For a person in a nursing home, one or two hour stretches of time without staff or human contact sometimes can seem a lonely eternity.
Sara had suggestions for anyone wanting brighter holidays for nursing home residents: “First, you can become a volunteer. Much of what they do is just show up and let the nursing home residents see their smiling faces and that someone is there who cares about them besides the staff.”
To family members, she advised, “You could take (your relative) outside for a walk even if they use a wheelchair, which is something the nursing home staff often doesn’t have time to do. After consulting with staff, you could bring a favorite (food) treat. Nursing home food gets monotonous no matter how much we try changing it up. Also, you can bring in something simple and different for them to look at in their room, such as a flower and vase.”