Caring at Christmas

For many, Christmas is a wonderful time of year. Friends and family come together, often over great distances or time apart, to celebrate with too much chocolate and turkey. We spend months preparing for Christmas day, exchange presents with those we love.

For those living in care homes, this isn’t possible. More and more of our population is aging, and with the increased life spans comes more of those unable to live independently. Due to health issues, they have been forced to move out of their own homes, often away from their family or friends. For the patients, Christmas time can be fraught with memories of how they used to spend the festive season, traditions that are no longer viable in a community home. What is difficult for staff, therefore, is creating a festive environment by trying to cater to as many different patients’ traditions as possible.

The key to bringing Christmas and those memories to the residents is through events. Gosmore Care Home in Hitchin organised for residents to decorate woollen snowmen alongside their relatives, allowing those that cannot be home for Christmas day to have some quality time together regardless. Similarly, Grove House Care Home in Prenton provided an event for residents to bake and decorate gingerbread, a traditional Christmas activity that many residents may have done before their time in a care home. Other care homes have recorded having choirs visit to perform to the residents, making stockings or crackers for the residents, and helping those less able to send cards to their loved ones, as they would have usually done.

Why is it important to do this? Studies have shown that there are many benefits to performing traditional Christmas practices with those in care homes. By recreating practices residents might have done themselves, reminiscence therapy as it is called, cognitive functions and overall mood of those suffering from dementia have been recorded to have improved significantly. By understanding not only their patients’ medical needs, but also their emotional, care home staff are able to greatly improve the residents’ quality of life.

These studies are not new discoveries either. Many articles have been written, detailing the differences in health of those that are able to relive, or recreate, some of their old traditions. It all links back to staff, and their connection to their patients. An article written for The Guardian in 2014 links patient recovery to “it is the small touches – based again on a knowledge of residents and their personalities – that can make all the difference”. Balcombe Care Home published an article, stating “Some residents will enjoy reminiscing about past Christmases, and memories can be stimulated by smells, sounds or images of Christmas. Activities such as making their own Christmas cards, decorations or even mince pies can help people rekindle the Christmas spirit”, pinpointing how important again having the habits of the residents in mind when planning Christmas events is important to their enjoyment of the season.

Throughout all this, however, it is important to remember the staff, who give up their time over the festive season to care for those who need it, spending time away from their own loved ones. The Christmas period is as much about their enjoyment as well. Many care homes, alongside the Christmas dinners provided for their residents, will offer one for their staff as well. It allows them to rotate their own time on Christmas day, and be able to partake in their own traditions. Staff are also allowed to wear festive jumpers, so the day feels as just as much for them as the residents. By focussing on both staff and residents, care homes can guarantee a good, positive atmosphere to their Christmas celebrations.

Contributed by Katie Mountain, Salford University student. 

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