The holidays conjure up images of delicious meals, festive lights, and classic movies. However, the holiday festivities also come with their share of stress; and that’s more true than ever now during COVID-19.

For seniors, the holidays can feel especially nostalgic, bringing to mind memories of happier, younger times. This also comes with a sense of loss: of youth, of friends, and of loved ones. And in a season when many seniors have been more isolated than normal because of the pandemic, your elderly loved ones may feel like they’re missing out or don’t have much to celebrate.

If you’re looking for ways to reduce stress and bring some extra joy to your loved ones this holiday season, these tips can help.

Be realistic. Know your senior’s limitations, as well as your own. Try to set reasonable expectations before going on an outing, and don’t forget that your loved one might need to be especially cautious about exposure to COVID-19.

Watch your body language. So often, our elderly relatives feel like they’re a burden. You may be exhausted and impatient, but be careful not to show it. Take deep breaths, relax your shoulders, uncross your arms, smile often, and give little hugs. Let your loved ones feel like you have all the time in the world.

Think outside the box. So your mother wants to Christmas shop, but she’s immunocompromised and shouldn’t be out in the crowds? Bring a laptop, snuggle up next to her on the sofa with a steaming cup of hot tea, and do some online shopping.

Be a good listener. Let’s face it: often the elderly have a lot to be sad about. Instead of reprimanding them for whining, or telling them to cheer up, invite your family member to talk about their feelings. Try saying things like, “I bet you’re missing your husband this year, aren’t you? How do you feel?” Listening validates their feelings.

Recall happy memories. After you’ve let your mother vent, transition her into a more positive conversation. Or redirect your father’s attention by asking him to recall funny anecdotes. If you have children or teens, urge them to ask their grandparents leading questions like, “Tell me about your first Christmas with Grandma.”

Let your elderly relative help. Everyone likes to feel useful, and that’s especially true of seniors. Make a mental list of everything that has to be done: applying bows to gifts, setting out placecards, peeling vegetables, hanging ornaments, setting tables. Then ask your loved one for help with one of these tasks.

Prevent over-stimulation and isolation. As odd as it sounds, a large family dining table can be a lonely place for an elderly person who cannot hear well. This is especially true if he has been living in a quiet environment, like an assisted living or nursing home. Seat your senior at the dining table at a position where they can hear well. Often the middle of the table is the most comforting spot. Sitting at the end of a table can cause noise distortion and the perception that everyone is talking at once.

Take turns being the “temporary caregiver” at family gatherings. It’s easy to get caught up in the laughter and conversation and busyness of a family event and leave the senior out. By assigning different relatives to take turns being the companion at these events, it ensures that your elderly relatives feel like they’re part of the festivities.

Maintain routines. If your mother or father is accustomed to an afternoon nap, make sure you budget time for it. Routines extend to meal times and portion sizes, as well. Too much on the plate can be overwhelming and lead to the senior just pushing the food around.

Get creative with your gifts. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to purchase for your elderly relatives, especially when they’ve downsized. Look for gifts that will make their space more cozy or help them connect with their loved ones. Maybe your mother needs a warm, fuzzy throw for her bedroom. Add a few movies that the two of you can watch together, and you’ll have the perfect Christmas gift. Or maybe your father would love an easy-to-use mobile phone or tablet that he can use to FaceTime his grandkids. A great gift doesn’t need to be complicated, just make it heartfelt.

Above all, you can control the holiday chaos by budgeting time to enjoy special music together, snuggle by a fire, and just be together. That companionship is undoubtedly the greatest gift your special senior can receive this year.

You might see Dodger offering cuddles and play time at Villages of Jackson Creek

We work hard to celebrate all of the amazing patients, partners, and family members who make up our centers. But there’s another group you may not know about that brings love, friendship, and wellness to our NHC community: the NHC dogs. 

Whether patients are visiting us for a short stay or living full-time in one of our long-term care centers, these furry friends help patients feel at home and remind them that they’re not alone. It’s no surprise, then, that therapy dogs are proven to reduce depression and anxiety for many of the people who interact with them. 

Mia is always willing to visit patients who need a friend at NHC Cookeville

Beyond the emotional benefits, did you know that dogs can also help people heal faster from an injury or illness? Some of the dogs you might see around your center are “facility therapy dogs” or “animal assisted therapy dogs.” These dogs are trained to work with a physical or occupational therapist to help patients with a variety of exercises, movements, and tasks. 

We even find that our “therapeutic visitation dogs” — who are mostly there to offer emotional support — bring a playful energy that encourages patients who are able to be more active and engaged.

Millie Wigglebottom helped NHC McMinnville patients celebrate the Fourth of July

It’s not uncommon to find a patient who’s hesitant to mingle with their peers coming out of their room to join the fun when one of our dog friends arrives for a visit. And if they’re unable to leave their bed, our visitation dogs are always willing to drop by their room for some one-on-one attention and cuddles.

Keep an eye out for a friendly therapy dog the next time you visit one of our centers, and don’t be afraid to give them some love! 

When your family member stays at an NHC center, you can trust that they’re in the best of hands. Not only do our patients and residents receive excellent medical treatment, but they also build strong relationships and emotional connections with the partners who care for them every day.

This is especially true with our Certified Nursing Assistants, who are responsible for many of the day-to-day tasks that keep our centers running. CNAs do everything from checking patient vitals to helping them with grooming to caring for wounds to making sure their rooms stay clean.

In honor of National CNA Week, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our amazing CNAs and give you a closer look at the care your loved one will receive at any of our NHC centers.

Building Genuine Connections Across Generations

Because CNAs see their patients every single day, they are often the people whom your loved one will form the closest relationships with.

“I had a stroke patient one time, she was my age. We became really bonded, and she was like my best friend. We talked, we had children the same age, and we just became really, really close,” shared Bridgette, a CNA who has worked at NHC for 32 years.

Bridgette says the relationships she’s built are the things that motivate her to keep coming back day after day.

“The atmosphere is family oriented. It’s the best place to work,” she shared. “I’ve worked in other nursing homes before, but this is my home. I love it.”

One young CNA shared that she’s loved the opportunity to learn from the seniors she works with.

“I started working here when I was in high school, and just being able to tell them my stories and then being able to hear theirs was amazing. They just provide so much wisdom and entertainment,” said Madison.

This atmosphere exists across our centers, whether your loved one is coming for a short-term stay after an injury or is entering long-term care.

“I love my residents. I like to see them get better and go home, because I work on the rehab unit, mainly. But I also like to go visit the long-term unit and see the residents that I’ve met through rehab who get to stay with us,” shared Lynda.

Discovering a Passion for Nursing

Many of our CNAs start working at NHC in high school, or they come to us through one of our free CNA classes. These classes give people an opportunity to explore a career in nursing and become certified as a CNA by the end of the program.

“At first I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” one CNA shared about her class experience. “As you go through all the steps and you go through the learning process of how to do things, everything just becomes natural to you if you are a nurturer like me.”

Sometimes the people who start as volunteers or Temporary Nursing Assistants in our centers fall in love with senior care and decide to get certified.

“I’m going to take the CNA classes at NHC because it’s a great opportunity. It’s fully paid for,” shared Luke, a Temporary Nursing Assistant who plans to become a CNA. “[We can] give [patients] a sense of hope and a sense of positivity, whatever might be going on in their life. Because we all need that as people. We’re always looking to be known by someone else.”

The next time you see a CNA in one of our centers, be sure to stop and thank them for all they do!