Holiday Traditions Prove Difficult for Families with Relatives in Nursing Home

December 05, 2014 10:23 PM

Around this time of year, many people are ironing out the details of holiday plans, but that process can be especially complicated and emotional for people with aging family members in a nursing home.

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These families struggle with trying to maintaining special holiday traditions, while dealing with the fact that mom or dad, grandpa or grandma might not be up to participating in them any longer. 

"There is that guilt factor," said Shelley Katzenburger, an administrator at Bayshore Residence and Rehabilitation in Duluth. "One, that you've even had to put them in somewhere that you couldn't take care of them yourself anymore. Then when it comes to the holidays, that guilt factor is multiplied."

Many families try to keep up decades-old traditions, but Katzenburger said it could be time to reconsider. 

"Maybe in the past, a four-hour Christmas dinner and the whole shebang and the cards and the dominos and any of the other holiday traditions that you have--maybe grandma is not up to that anymore. That's normal, and people don't realize that that's unfortunately part of the aging process."

That's why Katzenburger recommended thinking about creating new traditions with loved ones in nursing homes. She said decorating rooms, sharing a meal right at the nursing home or just spending a half hour or so together are all good ways to make the holidays special.

Gloria Kirsten's uncle Louie is a resident at Bayshore Residence and Rehabilitation in Duluth. Kirsten decks out his room with holiday décor and picks out holiday-themed clothing for him to wear. 

"I bring joy, decorate his room," Kirsten said. "It puts a smile on his face. He loves being dressed up really sharp. He's a special person to me."

Creating new traditions a letting go of the old can be hardest for family members who may not think the nursing home feels like home. 

"There's probably not a family that has someone here that doesn't feel the same way," Katzenburger said. "You're not alone in that. It's so common when it comes to nursing homes or assisted livings."

Bringing joy this season to aging relatives is sometimes as simple as seeing a room dressed for Christmas. 

"He look and he goes, I like it, and he had a little tear in his eye. So I know from his heart, he enjoys it," Kirsten said.

Each person is different, so Bayshore staff encouraged families to find what works best for them and to consult with nurses at the nursing home or assisted living facility. 


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