Celebrating the holidays should always include spending time with all of the wonderful people in our lives; family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. This brings us all together as a community and allows us to truly enjoy the company of people as opposed to just their role and function in our day-to-day lives. The holidays also give us a great chance to give back to our community, including donating our time, gifts, food and winter clothing necessities, etc. Additionally, with the “hustle and bustle” pace of the holiday season, often times we do not prioritize our events or schedule our time well enough to include everything we want to. One specific example of this is spending time with our senior relatives and friends. Many seniors who live in assisted living facilities may not get many visits from friends and family, if any at all, so if you have the opportunity to volunteer and spend time with seniors make sure to consider doing so as you have no idea what that really means to them. Furthermore, when everyone gathers for the holidays it is a great chance to really see the person in front of you and to have conversations about how they are doing and plans for the future. This is especially beneficial for spending time with our older parents and grandparents, as spending time during the holidays also provides a chance to assess their health and the little things that may be missed in chats on the phone or as time has passed.
Sumner Place Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation strives to make the holidays a time of joy, excitement and celebration for all. Courtney Schmitz, Life Enrichment Coordinator for Sumner Place, says, “At Sumner Place, ‘Family Serving Family’ is more than a motto, it’s a feeling that residents, families, and care partners truly believe in and experience—especially during the holiday season.” Families are invited and encouraged to participate in all holiday opportunities planned by the Life Enrichment Department. Sumner Place provides a monthly Life Enrichment calendar at sumnerplacecare.com which allows families to look ahead to create memories with loved ones. In addition to viewing monthly Life Enrichment calendars at sumnerplacecare.com, they notify families via The Roots of Sumner Place newsletter and often send out ‘Save the Date’ and personalized invitations by mail. “We really try to plan major holiday events on days and times when family and friends might be more able to come and participate. For example, our Family Thanksgiving Meal will be celebrated on the Wednesday evening prior to Thanksgiving Day and our Christmas Party will be celebrated the week prior to Christmas Day. This encourages engaging with loved ones at family homes in the community as well as providing the opportunity for residents to receive visitors on the true holiday date.” Sumner Place encourages families who are planning a visit to reserve areas throughout the living community for privacy so that specific accommodations can be made to ensure they meet your needs and preferences. As for holiday touch point opportunities, there are plenty to take advantage of at Sumner Place. Courtney adds, “We accept, organize and encourage multiple churches, schools, etc. to come into our living community during the holidays.” Their holiday Life Enrichment calendar has numerous organizations scheduled who will offer Christmas caroling, religious services, recitals and performances, service projects, gift giving, and much more. Also, Sumner Place coordinates many holiday-related opportunities like traditional holiday meals, musical entertainment, sleigh and reindeer, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and a Christmas party just to name a few. They invite everyone to join them during the holidays to experience their family serving family living community.
According to Lynette Tegtmeier, Activities Director at Lancaster Rehabilitation Center, “Lancaster Rehabilitation Center seems to get very busy around the holidays. We start the holiday season by providing each family the opportunity to enjoy an old fashioned Thanksgiving meal with their loved ones. During this time we are actively preparing donation lists for each of our residents. We have a very generous community that donates presents for each resident who calls Lancaster Rehabilitation Center home. We already have many caroling groups calling to set up times to visit. Our Christmas light tours viewing the beautiful warmth and colors of the season are filling up fast. Additionally, it’s always fun to have the Southeast Community College students help the residents do their holiday shopping. The residents all anticipate a visit from Santa, and our specialty Santa shakes are always a fun treat during the holidays. In the past, residents have also performed the Nativity Story, and we have also held a Winter Tea where we discuss family traditions or times where our staff members read the old traditional Christmas stories and the history of the Christmas symbols. Each year we try to do as much as we can to make sure everyone has an enjoyable holiday season filled with fun and meaningful activities. The Nutcracker is always a wonderful opportunity to experience the magical grandeur of the holiday, and we serve sparkling grape juice and cheese cake to add a touch of elegance to the show. To help raise money for our resident council we also design and decorate patio pavers to look like snowmen, which is a fun activity that everyone enjoys.”
Recent studies indicate that loneliness can dramatically predispose us to illness and dementia, so staying active and community involvement is essential. Carla Hiatt, Activities Director at Legacy Retirement Communities, says that staying busy is never a problem at the Legacy. She states, “We celebrate a most wonderful time with our residents and families with a variety of yuletide festivities. From live musical performances, holiday light tours, holiday caroling parties and gatherings, to personal gift-wrapping, holiday card writing and a family holiday party complete with Santa, Mrs. Claus and the reindeer! Festivities started last month with our annual fall boutique featuring vendors offering great gifts, crafts, jewelry and items to help with holiday shopping. Many of our residents enjoy entertaining by hosting holiday dinners, parties and gift exchanges with their families and friends in our communities. Seniors love to show off their family members and the holidays are a special time full of activities for all ages in our communities! It’s a busy time of year for everyone, but a short visit brings lots of lasting memories and can help continue to carry on family traditions as well. Many of our residents still host family gatherings and are able to enjoy the holiday season as much as they did in years past. Although it’s wonderful to hear our residents share favorite memories of holidays past and recreate traditions like baking cookies, it’s also exciting to see them start new holiday traditions like giving back to those in need by participating in some meaningful opportunities including creating the Salvation Army Christmas Tree Angel Tags and collecting and donating warm gloves to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Most importantly, continue to visit during the winter months and get involved with all the great things that are going on all year round. Our mission is to enrich the lives of everyone within our communities every day, and the holidays are no different. One of the most valuable benefits of living in a community is the gift of companionship and friendship. Our activities and enrichment staff encourages residents to connect with others in meaningful ways. We understand that the holidays can be a difficult time for many, so being connected and engaged will make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.”
By providing care in the home, Care Consultants for the Aging eases many of the stresses of the holiday. CareGivers assist with not only medical cares, but also with baking, cleaning, shopping, and even wrapping presents. They believe that there is no place like home for the holidays, and work to keep their clients living in their own homes for as long as possible. Care Consultants emphasizes that when you are spending time with your loved ones during the holidays, make sure to listen to their needs and concerns and watch for signs of depression, especially now. If there is a dramatic weight loss, poor hygiene, or increased confusion, it’s time to see the doctor or pursue other avenues of care and assistance. Don’t make keeping someone busy your sole ambition. Just putting together a jigsaw puzzle, playing a card game, looking at Christmas cards will open up some very revealing conversations, information and warning signs. Care Consultants’ CareGivers enjoy spending time with their clients during the holidays, but they truly aren’t the only people that their clients want to spend time with. You should always try to make time for senior relatives and friends, especially during the holidays. A simple two minute phone call can lift their spirits. On a snowy day, bring over a Christmas movie and enjoy some freshly baked cookies or a warm drink. Simply holding a hand and saying those three important words, ‘I Love You’, is the best holiday gift. Time costs nothing and gives a wonderful return on your investment.
Evaluating current and prospective living arrangements, discussing wishes or arrangements, and planning for the future when your elder loved ones may not be able to remain in their home is something that arises during the holidays as it is the time of the year when most of us set aside time to spend with our family. Christine Vanderford, of Vanderford Law, PC LLO notes that these topics are not always the easiest to discuss during the holidays, but it is necessary because sometimes it is the only time the family is all together in one place. She advises, “The best thing to do is to be very observant of the surroundings; (i.e., are things clean and tidy, is there expired food in the fridge or cupboards, are the older family members bathing on a regular basis or keeping up with their hygiene) to assess whether additional help or support is needed now or for future concerns. It is especially important to take note of how things have changed since the last time you saw each other. Once you have covered the basics, it is wise to have a team of professionals assist you with the necessary steps. We offer free one hour consultations, a free annual review of documents for all clients, and free meetings with extended family at our clients’ discretion to help family better understand all of the options available. We also occasionally provide free education seminars or discussion groups to allow our clients to further understand what things should be on their ‘list’ before they pass and what we can do to assist our clients and their families in preparing for the future.”
The more vital documents and information you have gathered in one place, the easier things will be for those who will need them. Here is a list of important items that are beneficial to keep securely in one place to which all critical parties have access:
• The Legal Essentials: Your Will, Letter of Instruction, Trust Documents, and Financial Power of Attorney.
• Regarding Marriage, Divorce, and Military Service: Marriage License, Divorce Papers, and Military Documents.
• Regarding Health Care: Personal and Family Medical History, Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, Authorization to Release Health Care Information, Living Will, and Do-Not-Resuscitate Order.
• Proof of Ownership: Housing, Land and Cemetery Deeds, Escrow Mortgage Accounts, Proof of Loans Made and Debts Owed, Vehicle Titles, Stock Certificates, Savings Bonds and Brokerage Accounts, Partnership and Corporate Operating Agreements, and Tax Returns.
• Life Insurance and Retirement: Life Insurance Policies, Individual Retirement Accounts, 401K Accounts, Pension Documents, and Annuity Contracts.
• Bank Accounts and Social Media: This should include a list of all bank accounts, user names and passwords, and information regarding safe deposit boxes. This is a major concern with the increase in the amount of online accounts we have in all areas of our lives!
Stephanie Farmer, Corporate Director of Resident and Community Relations for The Ambassador Health System, states “As with most things, communication is the key to ensuring that our short-term and extended care patients are receiving the best care possible during their time at The Ambassador Health System-Lincoln. Family members and friends who are visiting patients during the holiday season are encouraged to be mindful of their loved one’s overall health and happiness. During visits, family members should feel comfortable asking their loved one about the care they are receiving. Any feedback received should be relayed to the patient’s care team so that it can be properly addressed. Although the holiday season is a time for joy and happiness, it can also be a time of overwhelming sadness, regret and longing. Individuals with family members and friends residing in a rehabilitation and extended care facility are encouraged to take some time to visit their loved ones. A short visit can mean the world to a patient who is missing the comfort that only our close friends and family can provide. If a personal visit is not possible, a phone call can also do the trick.” She adds, “At The Ambassador Health System-Lincoln, we try to approach each day as if it was a holiday. Although we specialize in short-term rehabilitation, we also care for individuals on an extended care basis and we tend to get to know these patients on a close, personal level. Therefore, when the holidays come around, we are able to customize the ‘special touch’ that we deliver to the patients we care for. For example, we have outside groups prepare specialty cards for holidays and then those cards are delivered to our patients. Our extended care patients love receiving mail and these holiday cards make them feel so important and remembered at such a special time of year. In addition to receiving gifts, we have found that our patients thoroughly enjoy giving gifts to their loved ones as well. With the help of our associates, our patients make personalized coasters, jewelry, and artwork that they are able to gift to their loved ones. Not only do the patients enjoy the opportunity to personally create these objects, but they immensely enjoy presenting them to their family members and friends. For those patients with limited mobility or complex medical conditions, The Ambassador team goes the extra mile to ensure that their holiday season is filled with personal connections and joy. These connections may include personal visits to their room, reminiscing about past holiday traditions, and holiday caroling. Ambassador patients partake in numerous holiday parties, where family members and friends are present and always welcome.”
As we have detailed, many of the assisted living and rehabilitation centers in our community provide holiday events and gatherings for seniors to ensure that they enjoy this time of year and feel the comfort of being home for the holidays. Gateway Senior Living is among those who offer many holiday festivities. Amy Fish of Gateway Senior Living says, “Holidays are a great time for families to gather and spend time together, and so at Gateway Senior Living our campus is always busy with visitors, guests, and volunteers helping to make our holidays merry. Residents and staff work together to decorate the Christmas trees and make the campus festive. The food service department ensures there is plenty of eggnog and holiday treats to indulge in throughout the season, and talented entertainers who carol throughout the halls make the season bright. It is also a time for us to recognize how grateful we are and to give back to those in need. Every year at Gateway Senior Living we have a toy drive for the Salvation Army, and have donated scarves and mittens to the People’s City Mission. Additionally, Gateway Senior Living offers transportation to the many community and religious events held throughout the holiday season. This not only helps facilitate a safe ride during inclement weather, but most importantly provides for valuable social interaction within the greater community. The team at Gateway also helps coordinate campus events and entertainment so everyone is in the spirit. This December, Gateway Senior Living will celebrate our 50th year of hanging stockings! As Lincoln’s first retirement community, we feel blessed to have had the opportunity to serve Lincoln’s seniors for the past five decades so this year it will be an extra special time. Furthermore, it always seems during the holiday season we are the benefactors of an enormous outpouring of goodwill and fellowship. Our campus is buzzing with volunteer entertainers, individuals to help distribute cards and gifts that arrive daily, and others who just pop in to brighten our day with a Christmas song or two. If time gets away from you and you feel as if you are being pulled in too many directions, a simple card to let someone know you’re thinking of them goes a long way to lift someone’s spirit.” When visiting for the holidays, Gateway Living provides festive spaces for everyone to gather comfortably and enjoy each other’s company. Amy says, “The penthouse solarium on the 6th floor of the Gateway Senior Living tower not only offers spectacular views of the snowy city, but it is also a prime spot for entertaining large family gatherings throughout the holiday season. Often it is easier to bring the party to grandma and grandpa, and catering services provided by the Gateway food service team makes food preparation a breeze! We are also grateful to partner with several hotels in our area that provide our family members with discounted rates for overnight stays. Working collaboratively with some of our community partners, we can help take a little stress out of the bustle of the season.” As far as recommendations for family members who will be visiting for the holidays, Amy adds, “First off, spend the holidays enjoying each other’s company. The holidays are the best time to reminisce about the good old days, and share stories between generations. If visits are infrequent, family members may notice more dramatic changes in the health of their loved ones. Should that be the case, after the parties and celebrations subside you can assist by coordinating needed services to help them remain as independent and healthy as possible. This may involve touring campuses like Gateway Senior Living where all levels of living and support are provided, or it might be as simple as setting up a schedule for Meals on Wheels. There are several things you can look for when visiting during the holidays. Outdated prescription bottles often indicate they may not be taking their needed medications as scheduled. Empty refrigerators might be an indicator of poor nutritional intake. Body odor, or no longer being able to keep up with their home maintenance, can be easily rectified with just a little bit of assistance. Signs of increased confusion or memory loss might be another warning sign to step in and assist with finding services that can help them cope.”
Jodi Finch of Roper & Sons Funeral Services adds, “We believe the best time to talk about planning for the future is now! All too often, families do not like to discuss death or even the possibility of moving into retirement communities. Change can be difficult; we are here to offer you some help in opening conversations about change. You don’t necessarily have to include conversations about end-of-life wishes during the holidays, but when the whole family is gathered, is a great time to start talking. If you start with conversations about life stories, memories, traditions and the like, transitioning into talking about end-of-life planning and wishes becomes easier. We are pleased to offer a few ways to help families begin those discussions. First, we have partnered with the Select Independent Funeral Homes (SIFH) to offer a program called “Talk of a Lifetime”. You can request a brochure by contacting us at 476-1225 or email email@example.com. This brochure gives you some great insight into talking with your family – not just about your final wishes, but about your life’s story, your memories, the very things that make you uniquely YOU. These discussions can help families and friends make important decisions about how they wish to remember and honor the lives of their loved ones through meaningful memorialization. Another offering we have is a seminar called “Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate”. All too often, we see families fighting over “things.” These are important, sentimental items that mean a lot to us as families, but “things” nonetheless. Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate offers advice on how to make sure that families can honestly decide who gets what, some tips and advice for talking about the importance of various sentimental items, and making the best decisions to help keep the peace among family members. We are available to speak to groups of any size, anywhere that is convenient! If your group does not have a place to meet, our Reception Hall is available as well. This presentation can be as brief as thirty minutes, or for a more in-depth discussion, it can be over an hour. In addition, we have a grief counselor on staff who is available to meet with families and anyone grieving. She holds group support as well, from January through June and again from September through November every year. Finally, we have two trained and experienced pre-need planning counselors available to help with your planning. Arranging your funeral is the best gift you can give your family. Anyone interested in learning more about all of our services and support can contact us at any time.” She adds, “The best piece of advice we can offer is to start having honest and open conversations about life, about memories, about traditions, and about death and end-of-life wishes. They may not be the most comfortable conversations to have at first, but everyone will find a deeper sense of peace when the time comes to say goodbye for the last time if you talk openly now. We wish everyone a wonderful and peaceful holiday season!”
Among the changes to look for are those associated with a decline in hearing capabilities. Leslie Frank, Audiologist and owner of Nebraska Hearing Center, acknowledges that having a loved one who is hard of hearing is a challenge for everyone involved and stresses that the gift of hearing is a gift for the entire family. Those with hearing loss begin to miss moments that only happen once, so it is really important to have that loved one involved in all of the holiday activities. Nebraska Hearing Center offers free hearing tests, so there is no cost to start that discussion with your loved one. They may even find that your loved one doesn’t even need hearing aids—their goal is to educate so that all involved can make informed decisions. As a gift you can make a decorated certificate for a free hearing test, as it will foster the discussion in a non-threatening way. Hearing loss is a gradual process, and there are many different ways that people adapt to these changes that may not be apparent to their loved ones. “People with hearing loss slowly begin to isolate themselves because it is easier”, Leslie says. “They may not even realize they are doing it, or that it’s because they have a hearing loss”. A good approach is to ask your loved one if they have had their hearing tested lately. Tell them that having their hearing checked annually is just as important as going to the eye doctor or their medical doctor. Since the test is free – why not? Technology is also really changing the world of hearing. Nebraska Hearing Center offers new wireless technology combined with a small remote. It is designed to improve hearing when using cell phones; or when watching TV or listening to music. The technology really improves the clarity when in meetings, noisy places, or while at church. “Our clients who have recently purchased these new aids, really love them”, says Leslie. “They are amazed with the difference between the new ones and their old ones”. Finally, she offers some common signs of hearing loss to watch for when visiting senior relatives for the holidays:
• Your loved one can hear loud enough, but can’t understand conversations.
• They overuse the word “what”. • The TV is too loud for others.
• They have trouble understanding a conversation in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant.
• They have ringing in their ears.
Curtis Klein of HoriSun Hospice adds, “We really want our patients to be as active as they can in order to enjoy the season to the best of their abilities with their families while they can in a safe and secure manner. We also tell families to be very aware and diligent of the changes that may be happening with their loved ones. Sometimes, the holidays may be the first time that they have seen their loved ones in quite some time and the changes may be significant. This is often the time for them to assess the situation and look at what needs to happen for their loved ones, so it is important to be aware of the many options available when making decisions regarding care and support.”
Deb Maguire, Administrator for High Plains Alzheimer’s Care, provides some useful tips regarding visiting your elderly loved ones during the holidays:
“For many years after the onset of dementia, long-held memories remain intact. Often it is helpful to stick with the holiday routine your family member has been accustomed to over the years. Symbols such as Christmas trees are reassuring and comforting. If your loved one doesn’t remember names or recognize rapidly changing grandchildren, remember: ‘Don’t correct; only connect.’ For example, don’t say, ‘Don’t you remember? This is your first grandchild Peter.’ Instead say, ‘Grandma, your grandson Peter is here and wants to give you a hug.’ Or if you visit grandma in her memory care living community and she says, ‘I want to go home.’ Don’t say, ‘This is your home now.’ Logic is unlikely to improve this type of situation. Instead say, ‘Mom, remember that house we had in Brainard when I was in grade school? You made it such as wonderful home. And your room here with all the familiar furniture reminds me of it. You always make your home so cozy.’ Honor her thoughts of home and gently change the subject. If grandma laments long-lost ornaments or items, find similar ones. She may not remember giving away that beloved red teddy-bear on the tree, but you can find one like it. If grandpa gets upset because his holiday sweater is missing, get another one. Find tasks that are meaningful and achievable, such as baking or decorating the tree. Go through old family albums and bring up good memories. Don’t treat a demented elder in a patronizing or demeaning way–it’s sometimes remarkable what a person with dementia can still do. I remember my dad, with full-blown Alzheimer’s, could still beat me at penny poker! Just make sure to give plenty of extra time. Experts suggest that ‘Hush; don’t rush’ is a good policy. Keep things simple and relaxed. It takes enormous patience but is often rewarded with meaningful and loving time spent together. Enjoy the holiday season, and know that our team at High Plains Alzheimer’s Special Care Center is here to support you.”
Sometimes, living adjustments may be as easy as organizing, decluttering and downsizing in order to make the home safer and easier to navigate or perform daily tasks. Organize by Design offers downsizing, moving, and estate management. Wendy Tridle, professional organizer and interior designer with Organize by Design, states “Downsizing is always a difficult change for elderly, both emotionally and physically. Organize by Design listens to the client’s needs and assists the elderly person and their family by going through to downsize the material items. It is important to keep the client and/or loved ones on track to make the downsizing process easier. Seniors often think their items have sentimental value and need coaching to understand the options of gifting, selling, or throwing items away. Downsizing is not all about getting rid of things; it is a new way of life. It is often helpful for family members to suggest to their relatives the importance of working with Organize by Design for decluttering and downsizing, as it is a difficult conversation and usually takes some time to make a decision. To offer additional support, Organize by Design will also provide a FREE 30 minute consultation to explain the process and understand the clients’ needs. Organizing for the elderly who have lost a loved one is an emotional process, and Wendy is very sensitive to the situation. Many of her senior clients have found Wendy to be very helpful, caring, and life changing. Eldon Stithem, age 84, says, “I believe Wendy with Organize by Design was an angel sent from my wife who passed away six months ago. I was lost without my wife and I did not know what I was going to do. Wendy started work for me a week after my wife’s funeral. We organized every room and she assisted me in moving. She was very sensitive to my wife’s belongings and would know what to say and do to make the organization session easy. She saved my life!”
Adjustments could also include renovations that allow seniors to continue to live in their home instead of moving to an assisted living facility. Carlson Projects provides Homes-for-Life remodeling, or home modifications to make your home fit you best. According to Stefan Carlson of Carlson Projects, “The issue of staying in your home longer is not new; it is, however, a growing need. In fact, with the number of people over 65 in Lincoln alone being over 35,000 it is a huge need. This is our niche, and where we love to serve. We assess the homes of local seniors and provide solutions that allow them to remain in their homes safely. We solve these various problems by using our 20+ years of experience in the industry to implement solutions that not only fit your budget but fit your lifestyle. We believe a safe home is a home-for-life.” Carlson adds, “We install many types of home modification products, including grab bars, railings, shower heads, ramps, bathroom remodels, door widening, shower seats, elevated toilets, walk-in/roll-in showers, kitchen remodeling, and lighting/electrical safety assessment and modification if necessary.” To add to their experience with these types of renovations, Stefan Carlson was recently received the CAPS (Certified Aging In-Place Specialist) certification from the National Home Builders Association. You can find out more about what they are able to do to modify homes for seniors at Carlsonprojectsinc.com.
While being home for the holidays may mean different things to different people and at different ages, it is important that home is where you feel safe and supported. There are many different ways to achieve this goal, and many different businesses and organizations in the Lincoln community that are available to help you achieve the goal of feeling at home, wherever that may be. We encourage everyone to get out and visit senior relatives and friends both near and far, and fellow members of the Lincoln community this month for the holidays–spread some cheer all around!