Ah, it’s time for the holidays! All year, we wait for this time of celebration and being with those we love. But for some of our patients, the season isn’t very jolly. Some of your patients will be alone…what can you do to help them?
Elderly people, no matter where they live, can feel isolated and lonely during the holidays. They may have lost loved ones, family members are too busy to visit, and their own poor health prevents them from getting out. People who were once vibrant and active now feel useless. Take a second to put yourself in their place. What would you want if it were you?
Here are some ideas that you and your co-workers can use to lift the spirits of your patients:
1. Listen. It can be a true gift, to simply sit with a patient and let him tell you about how his family used to celebrate. Allow him to reminisce about the past. Understand that if he complains about the present, he is actually mourning the loss of being connected. Don’t judge or try to be falsely cheerful. Just listen.
2. Provide purposeful activity. Can your patient make door decorations? Gift bags for the homeless? Sign a card for a veteran? Research shows that volunteering lessens depression; we feel good when we can help others.
3. Decorate. Watch for sales and buy colorful decorations for those who will be alone during the holidays. A small tree, an electric menorah, garlands or other seasonal items can make a patient feel less isolated. Include the patients in making festive table decorations.
4. Find spiritual support. Ask your social worker or administrator to invite someone of your patients’ faith to come and visit. The holidays have religious meaning, and patients may benefit from speaking with a pastor, priest, rabbi, or an outreach specialist. When congregations learn about the patients, they may provide additional support.
5. Import kids and pets. School choirs are often eager to sing for the community. Make a concert special by serving punch and cookies. Certified service pet volunteers love to bring their dogs around for patients to pet and hug. Even a few minutes of young people or “pet therapy” can raise the spirits of your patients.
The holiday season can be difficult for some patients. When you use compassion and empathy to see the world through their eyes, you’ll want to take special measures to make things as cheerful as possible. Exactly how you would wish to be treated…
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