December 22, 2008


Nursing homes spread holiday spirit among residents

HolidayJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Laurel Ballard, left, and Activities Director Amy Underwood sing a duet during a Christmas karaoke sing-along Saturday at the Elizabeth Brewster House in Homer. The facility is one of several that try to make the holidays enjoyable for senior citizens.

Staff Reporter

Christmas dinners, holiday parties and shopping trips are some of the activities people in local nursing homes and assisted living facilities may take part in this week as the holiday spirit is brought to those who cannot be at home.
According to Resident Program Director Jessica Daily of Walden Place senior assisted living facility in Cortlandville, the staff tries to make the holidays come alive for the 80 residents in a variety of ways.
“We get something going on every day of the week, even on Christmas day,” Daily said.
All residents, even those who may not have family to spend the holidays with, are included in the programs. Residents may pick their choice of food to have at the Christmas dinner and they can all write holiday cards in the activity center as well as participate in holiday baking.
“We try to think of things they would have done if they were living at home and continue those traditions,” Daily said. She said the facility takes residents on holiday shopping trips and on trips to see the neighborhood Christmas lights.
A holiday party is also an option for residents to partake in and they can invite their family to this. Entertainment and hors d’oeuvres are provided at the party and the residents are given gifts during the holidays as well. The Christmas dinner offers residents their choice of a holiday dinner menu that includes turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, ham or prime rib with mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Bill Ramiza, dining services director, said giving residents options with their fare helps them feel part of the decision-making process.
Ramiza said the facility also purchased a Webcam for the residents to use this year as a Christmas gift. It helps them feel connected to family that cannot be with them, Ramiza said.
“They can interact with someone and it’s another way to make them feel they are not here by themselves and they can reach out,” Ramiza said.
One resident, Helen Stoll, said she now enjoys the holidays for different reasons than she used to when she was younger and could do more. At 95, Stoll’s diet is now limited and she uses a walker to get around but she considers herself fortunate.
“I am happy at this age I feel as good as I do,” Stoll said. “I enjoy watching what other people are doing as much as anything now.”
She remembers cooking large dinners and stuffing a turkey or a goose for her family when she was younger but now she lets her family take care of her during the holidays.
At Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility at Cortland, memories of past Christmases are brought alive during morning discussions. An activities director encourages conversations in which residents share memories of their Christmas traditions.
Northwoods spokeswoman Lisa Cupolo said on Christmas morning residents can reminisce about past Christmases during their morning session of newspaper reading and coffee.
“They talk about their memories of Christmas and what they used to do when they were growing up,” Cupolo said.
The staff tries to include all residents, especially those who may not be able to celebrate the holidays with family, by giving out personalized gifts.
“Every year residents are always given a gift from the staff,” Cupolo said. She said the Salvation Army and other local agencies also get involved, making efforts to know the residents and give them gifts that are meaningful to them.
“Residents who don’t have family may make a list of items they may like for the holiday and submit it to different organizations in the area that adopt people for the holiday season ... and give personalized gifts,” Cupolo said.
Northwoods houses 130 to 140 residents who are there for both short-term recovery and long-term care. Intergenerational activities are provided for the seniors by way of local school choirs that perform and children who visit and make arts and crafts with the residents.
Santa Claus visits the facility as well and there is a special Christmas dinner in which carving stations are set up and residents may invite their families to attend.
This year the facility is giving each resident a fleece blanket.
The Elizabeth Brewster House in Homer, a nonprofit retirement living community, provides both Hanukkah and Christmas activities for its 36 residents.
A spiritual care coordinator leads the residents in prayer and music throughout the holidays. Residents will eat potato latkes during tea time in recognition of Hanukkah and the house will have a menorah lit each day. Residents will receive gifts on Christmas day and the Jewish residents will also receive Hanukkah gifts.
Executive Director Tom Obuck said there is also emphasis placed on bringing the residents into the community for drives to see the holiday lights and shopping trips.
Homer Elementary School children also come decorate the Christmas tree in the Brewster House lobby and join the residents for milk and cookies, Obuck said. Residents also respond to school children who have written letters to Santa Claus, in another activity designed to involve them with the young generations.
“We also support our local economy as well. We bring in a store ... a person comes in and sets up tables ... so the residents can purchase items,” Obuck said.
“They can buy things for their children or grandchildren. It is an opportunity working with a local business to provide some items sold at low rates and we also provide free gift wrapping,” Obuck said.
The Cortland Salvation Army visits nursing homes every year and this year Capt. Scott Dorchak and his wife, Danielle, also a captain, and their 7-month old daughter will be visiting with the elderly.
Dorchak will distribute warm slipper socks and the Salvation Army’s magazine as gifts to the residents at local nursing homes, one of the ways the Salvation Army helps to spread cheer during the holidays.
The elderly population also benefited from a Christmas basket the Salvation Army provided to 224 households this year. Approximately 33 couples received the baskets, many of whom were over the age of 60.
The baskets were given Friday to individuals who had signed up for them in October and November. The baskets included vouchers for meat or turkey, potatoes, corn, green beans: all the fixings for a complete Christmas dinner, Dorchak said.
Sunday’s Christmas dinner held at the Salvation Army facility on south Main Street drew about 75 people, some of whom were elderly, Dorchak said. The annual event provides dinner to anyone who wants to take part but numbers were lower this year due to the storm.
“It can be a lonely time of year and we just like the residents to know there is someone who cares and loves them, especially around Christmas time,” Dorchak said.


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