Perfect Christmas Gifts for Nursing Home Residents

There are three things you need to know about the social dynamic in nursing homes before you select a gift for a loved one who lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility:
The major complaint of most residents is BOREDOM.
There is often a fierce competition between elderly women around the holidays!
The day after Christmas around most nursing homes is a lot like “show and tell.”

If you have a family member in a nursing home, the best gift you can give them is, of course, your presence. If it’s possible to visit them several times around the holidays, it’s a delight for them. If it’s not possible, a longer Christmas visit is important. It’s difficult for residents without visitors to watch their roommates or other residents receiving friends and family members, especially on special days like Christmas. And when you visit, don’t go empty-handed!

Gifts to Fight Boredom

To relieve boredom, patients love books, movies, music, crafts, and visitors. The problem is that most residents find it difficult to read and operate technologically advanced devices. While you might think a portable DVD player with movies is the best gift ever, it might end up sitting on a shelf unused.

If you are lucky enough to have a loved one in a facility with a lot of caregivers and volunteers, an electronic device is possible. It’s important to discuss this with caregivers before you invest in the purchase. Be blunt, and ask what the odds are of someone being around to help your loved one operate the device.

Another option is to purchase a simple device and “tweak” it a bit to make it easier to operate. If your father loves books but has a hard time reading, audio books on CD and a personal Walkman-type device would be perfect if you take a bit of paint or a marker and brightly color the Play button only. Don’t get ambitious and try to color-code the rest of the buttons. Keep it simple. If the CDs are plain or both sides look the same, mark THIS SIDE UP in the middle (label) part of the CD. Be sure to give a supply of batteries to the caregiver who is responsible for his room. Write your relative’s name clearly on the battery package using a piece of masking tape or a label.

Craft gifts are a good idea, but you really have to be careful about the types of crafts. Avoid anything with long directions in small print. Also avoid activities that require a steady hand or intense concentration. Even if Grandma always knitted, her eyesight and arthritis might prevent her from being able to these days. Getting her needles and a box full of yarn might only remind her of something she once enjoyed but can no longer do.

A better craft idea is a large scrapbook kit, a box of family photos, and a glue stick. It’s something creative that Grandma will enjoy without straining her eyes or hurting her hands.

Men generally prefer more practical gifts like fur-lined walking slippers, a new robe, or large print books if they are still able to read.

The Unspoken Female Competition in Nursing Homes

OK, it sounds a bit silly, but it happens! It’s a lot like an office full of women on Valentine’s Day. Although they’ve all told their husbands they don’t need flowers delivered at work, there is an understood competition between them, and they are all aware of who got the largest bouquet!

Even if your Aunt Sue says not to make a fuss for Christmas, make a fuss! The bigger presentation, the better! Overdo the wrapping of presents. Make sure the paper is flashy and there are lots of bows and ribbon. If there are two gifts, don’t wrap them in the same box. A big bouquet of flowers in addition to gifts will make her feel even more special! Organize the family so everyone visits at once on Christmas. She’ll feel more included in the family holiday, and having a large number of visitors is a big source of pride in nursing homes.

One of her gifts should definitely be framed photos of children or grandchildren. Women in nursing homes often have bragging contests about their children and grandchildren, and they love to show off pictures of their families.

While you want her to feel special in front of all her nursing home friends, you should also include a small gift, card, or treat for her roommate, especially if you aren’t sure if she gets visitors. It’s just a nice thing to do, and it will make your loved one proud of you.

Show and Tell – The Day after Christmas

For all of the residents who are able to leave their rooms and move throughout the nursing home, the day after Christmas is “show off day,” where the residents show each other the cool gifts they got for Christmas.

Keeping this in mind, skip the practical gifts for another time, and choose gifts that can be worn or shown off throughout the nursing home or assisted living facility. For women, this means colorful, fuzzy or silk scarves or beautifully embellished sweatshirts with lots of color and shine. Although your loved one would probably appreciate a comfy pillow for their wheelchair or a warm blanket, you should save those gifts for another time (unless the blanket is a throw that was hand-knit by a niece that she can brag about to others). A “show and tell gift” gives them something new to talk about with their friends, caregivers, and volunteers. It’s a way of making the special occasion of Christmas last longer for them.

Giving your loved one a bright, new nail polish color and doing her nails on Christmas is an excellent and inexpensive gift that she will enjoy. Manicures, pedicures, and styling or coloring hair are excellent “spa” type gift that you can do yourself and Grandma will really love!

It is more difficult to find gifts for male residents. Many like new hats – either baseball caps of their favorite team, hunting caps if they were once outdoorsy, or spiffy driving caps. Tennis shoes or nice looking, comfortable casual shoes are always a big hit. Unlike most women, men will usually be honest when you ask them what they would like or need. Women usually say they don’t need anything, but men will sometimes tell you they’d like a new sweat suit or pair of pajamas.

If your loved one is mentally challenged or has advanced Alzheimer’s, concentrate on a gift that provides textural stimulation or comfort. A large, incredibly soft teddy bear or a brightly colored squishy pillow filled with polystyrene foam beads that you can’t stop squeezing make excellent gifts. They will enjoy these types of gifts, and the gifts will also increase interaction with other residents and caregivers who will make a fuss over the cute teddy bear or want to give the soft pillow a squeeze.

Don’t just bring flowers on Christmas. To nursing home patients and assisted living residents, Christmas gifts mean a great deal. If you don’t have a lot to spend, it’s alright, because homemade gifts are special. Sentimental gifts are always touching, but silly and light-hearted gifts go a long way to brighten the day. Your gift should be something to make them feel special, loved, and remembered.
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