Christmas is usually a time to celebrate with family – but if you have a loved one in aged care, the festive season might be challenging. Christmas might look a bit different this year, and it might be hard to envision how it will work when not everyone will be in the same place on the day. And many people feel guilty about not being able to spend enough time with their family member in aged care when they have a million things to do to get ready for Christmas, and people to entertain on the big day.
However, just because your loved one is in aged care doesn’t mean Christmas can’t still be a wonderful time. It’s possible to have a magical Christmas even when a special family member is living in aged care – here’s how to make it work.
Know the rules
Firstly, take the time to find out about the rules and regulations the aged care facility has in place concerning Christmas. You’ll need to find out:
- What the current COVID restrictions are
- What the visiting hours over the Christmas period are
- How many people are allowed to visit
- What festive activities the facility has planned
- What festive activities your family member wants to attend
- What festive activities you and your family could be included in
- The policies regarding gifts of food
- How you can connect with your loved one via technology if a visit isn’t possible, and when staff might be able to help facilitate that
Ask what they want to do
The most important thing you can do is consider your family member’s wishes. There’s no point spending a great deal of time planning to bring them to your house if they’d actually prefer to spend Christmas in the facility. So just ask what they would like to do over Christmas, and try and find a way to make that happen.
Bring them home for Christmas
If they would like to and are able to (i.e. if their health or medical condition allows), collect them and bring them to your home to join the rest of the family for the day – or part of the day. Keep in mind that a long day of excited children, food, games, celebration, noise and activity may be overwhelming for them, and they may prefer to just spend part of the day with you. Or make sure they have time out and a quiet place to rest at your home if need be if they’re going to be staying all day. Plan your activities, such as opening presents, dinner, games etc. for when they will be present – and make sure they are included in whatever is going on and not just watching from a corner.
Keep in mind that a lot of rich food might not agree with older people, and provide some plainer options that won’t upset them.
If they can’t leave the facility, make time to go to them
If your loved one has a medical or health condition (such as dementia) that makes it difficult or impossible for them to leave their care home, see if you can find a time to visit them. You might even be able to take lunch and some gifts to the facility so they can join in the celebrations, or book in for Christmas lunch at the facility with your loved one. You don’t have to spend the entire day at the facility, but a short visit will help them know they are not forgotten at this family-centric time.
If you can’t visit on Christmas Day, you might be able to schedule a visit in the lead up to Christmas or on Boxing Day.
Click here to access some great conversation starters for older people.
How to make Christmas special
Christmas is not just about the day itself, the festive season runs throughout December, and there are plenty of ways you can make it special for your loved one. Try some of these ideas:
- Bring in some decorations to make their room look festive and cheerful and help create the atmosphere of Christmas
- Send a Christmas card – older people usually love receiving handwritten letters
- Help them write and send Christmas cards to friends and other family members
- Display any Christmas cards they have received in their room
- Send a meaningful gift that will be truly appreciated
- Help them shop for and wrap Christmas gifts for family members, either by going with them or helping them shop online
- Bring a gift of food that you know they love, perhaps a special family recipe
- Watch their favourite Christmas movie with them
- Look at photos from previous Christmas celebrations
- Listen to their favourite Christmas songs or music with them – or even sing along
- Get the children or grandchildren to put on a little show or display for your loved one to enjoy
- Bring in Christmas cards or newsletters from family members to read
- Start a Christmas journal, and get all your family members (included your loved one in aged care) to write down memories of their favourite Christmases
If distance or time make it impossible to visit or bring your loved one to you for Christmas, organise a time to call, FaceTime or Skype to brighten their day. The important thing is that they know you care, even if it’s not the same as being with them on the day.