News & Views

18th December 2014

It’ll be homely this Christmas: how care homes can celebrate

Care workers can help residents send cards, comfort those feeling sad or lonely and help make Christmas Day special

As families throughout the UK prepare for Christmas, 20,000 care homes are – in their own ways – doing the same.

People in care homes are now notably more frail, with more diagnosed with dementia than 20 or 30 years ago. More will spend what is traditionally a family celebration away from their loved ones. This is an added reason why Christmas is a vital date in a care home’s calendar.

A home that delivers good-quality, personalised care is in effect a surrogate family. So, like a family, they should already be well into their Christmas planning, embracing the rhythm of the lead up to 25 December.

At the heart of it, good care homes are those where staff know the personalities and histories of their residents and their families. They are familiar with their residents’ lives, loves and dislikes.

It is when equipped with such knowledge that care homes are best placed to meet the needs of residents over Christmas. Staff should know what Christmas was like for each resident prior to their being in care. This is the foundation for excellent care, Christmas or not.

The Christmas period is a nostalgic one, with traditions reoccurring year after year. This means the benefits of reminiscence therapy (which studies show lead to improved cognitive function and overall better mood for people with dementia) can be harnessed.

Savouring and sharing memories can be embedded into the lead up to Christmas Day. Staff can assist residents to write cards, or to make stockings and crackers.

As for maintaining residents’ links to their community, there are so many ways care homes can be innovative and creative. I remember a resident who used to attend his local church on Christmas Day every year, but became so disabled he couldn’t go. So as a solution, a video link was installed from the church to the care home living room. This is a wonderful example of how the community was brought back into a resident’s life.

Carol singers and Father Christmas visiting homes, and using technology such as Skype to ensure residents share Christmas Day with family abroad are other ways to seal community links. Additional stimulating and healthy activities can also be brought in. The National Association of Physical Activity Providers is a useful resource. I am governance manager of Montreux Living, and one of our homes, Featherton House in the Cotswolds, this year brought in an outside company to perform The Wizard of Oz pantomime. To see residents and staff dancing together was a special moment.

But it is the small touches – based again on a knowledge of residents and their personalities – that can make all the difference. Residents will be used to Christmas lunch with all the trimmings. What did their Christmases smell like 50 years ago? While bowls of potpourri with cinnamon and clove may not be popular now, they may well have been for residents. At another of our homes, Wren House in Warminster, staff and residents have decorated arranged flowers to evoke scents of their childhood.

Equally, care home staff should be alert to the fact that residents may experience sadness and loss during Christmas, grieving for loved ones. With many families living long distances or overseas the companionship and festive excitement within a care home can soften the pain of separation or loneliness.

As for staff who work on Christmas Day, they tend to throw themselves into the spirit, fun and pace of the day. Staff, almost without exception, want to make the day special and positive. That’s an attitude and state of mind that homes should embrace.

If you peek through the doors of a good care home on Christmas Day, what you should see is a replication of a family Christmas, where people sit and celebrate together. Once you know your residents, there are many ways care homes can achieve this. This was brought home to me when one of our 90-year-old residents told me one Christmas: “I had never thought it was possible to make new friends and have such fun.”. This represents an end goal we all want to reach.

Sue Burton is a former care home inspector and governance manager of Montreux Living, which runs six care homes in England. Montreux Living is part of Montreux Healthcare.




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