7 Tips on Celebrating the Holidays in a Nursing Home

If your loved one is at a hospital or a nursing care facility, whether it's for a short-term rehab stay or for long-term care, she might feel pretty discouraged about not being home to celebrate the holidays.

But just because she's not at home doesn't mean she can't celebrate those special days in a very meaningful way. Here's how you can help.

Festively wrapped Christmas gift, close-up

PhotoAlto / Michele Constantini / Getty Images

Talk About It

You know that phrase about the elephant in the room? Acknowledge it. Your family member may need to process the changes from last year and talk extensively about what she is missing out on this year. She also might appreciate hearing that you'll miss her amazing turkey stuffing that she makes every year, or just that you will be missing her.

On the flip side, there are some people who don't. want. to. talk. about. it. However, you don't get to assume this is the case without trying to broach the subject. The thought of, "Oh good. Now I don't have to bring this hard subject up" is not valid until you've mentioned it and given the person a chance to choose if she'd like to talk about it. If she chooses not to, respect this.

Party at the Nursing Home

Whatever name we use—nursing homes, long-term care facilities, sub-acute hospitals, assisted living facilities— the point is that your family member isn't at home. So, bring the party to him!

Most facilities have a room you can use to host a get-together. Bring in the relatives and whoop it up. Is no big room available? Schedule specific days for each family member to visit the facility. Let your loved one know that he's important to you all by spending time with him.

Does he have dementia? Think he won't remember your visit after you leave? Think again. Research shows that even if the specifics of your visit fade, the feelings you create by spending time together last much longer.


Fill her wall with cards from family and friends. You can put out an email or Facebook plea for others to send holiday cards to her and provide the address. This is one wonderful way for her to know that she is not forgotten.

Bring the Food

Even the best food at a facility is still not the same as the homemade food you're serving. Make up a big plate of the holiday dinner and another one of desserts and bring it to him. And if he has a roommate, make a plate of deliciousness for him, too. (Of course, you should check first with the nursing staff to make sure his diet orders will allow this.)

Get Permission for a Field Trip

Depending on your family member's needs and conditions, it might be possible to get permission to skip out of the facility for a short time. Obviously, if your family member is in a hospital for an acute condition, this won't work. But, if she's receiving rehabilitation for a hip fracture or she's in long-term care because of her Alzheimer's disease, it's worth considering. Make sure you talk about this possibility with her physician, as he may need to officially write an order to allow this.

Gift Giving

Bring a few meaningful gifts to her to brighten her day, whether it's a warm, comfy sweater or a new book by her favorite author.

Does your loved one have dementia? Consider giving a meaningful musical recording, an electronic photo frame loaded with pictures of familiar people that can automatically play, or a large clock that includes the day of the week and the date.

Perhaps more important, however, when it comes to gift-giving, is the opportunity for her to give gifts to others if that's her tradition. You may need to be a bit creative, but with all of the online shopping available, she can still be involved in choosing gifts for family members. Or, if she's got a talent for knitting, for example, you could make sure she has enough supplies to make gifts for others. If gift-giving is one of her joys, offer to help her in this endeavor.

Share Your Traditions

Consider involving staff members and other patients or residents at the facility in your traditions. For example, if your family always spends time singing holiday songs, do this at the facility. Or, if you typically bake some special cookies, bring in some extras for others who are in the same situation as your loved one.

Are you familiar with the saying, "It's better to give than receive"? If you have the opportunity to share your food, time, or talents with those around you, you will have the joy of seeing others encouraged, and that's a holiday gift for all to enjoy.

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  • Alzheimer's Association. Holidays and Alzheimer's Families 500 500.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.