Holiday Fun for Assisted Living Communities

Author: Amanda Woodward

| Published on: December,08 | Viewed: 2494 times


The holidays are full of traditions and memories.  For residents in assisted living communities, this can be a bittersweet time.  Providing a home-like setting is always an important goal of assisted living communities, but can be especially important this time of year.

Researchers from Georgia State University talked with residents in one assisted living community to learn about what makes it feel like home to them.  They asked ten residents to take pictures of places and objects in the community that made it feel like home.  The residents shared their pictures with each other and talked about why they chose to take the pictures they did.  

Several themes that came out of those discussions can inspire and guide the holiday festivities in your community.

  • Decorations triggered fond memories of previous homes.  One resident specifically photographed the holiday decorations. She came from a big family and the decorations reminded her of the last time they all celebrated Christmas together.

  • Being able to bring their personal histories into the space through furniture, artwork, and family pictures provided emotional connections and made their current space feel more homelike.  Downsizing can be one of the challenges of moving into an assisted living community, and the choices residents make about what to bring can tell a lot about what is important to them.  Holiday objects and photographs can be especially important.

  • Meeting new people and having positive interactions with staff members were also important for creating a home-like atmosphere.  The holidays are a wonderful time to create opportunities for meaningful social interactions for people in assisted living communities.

So what does this mean for holiday decorating?

Holiday decorations aren’t just bits of paper and glitter. They’re so much more!

It’s not just the physical objects that are meaningful, it’s the traditions surrounding them that give these baubles extra charm. They make us think of times gone by or give us hope for the future. So they deserve a bit of attention and planning. Make holiday decorating a central part of your community festivities; your residents will thank you.

Improve communication about activities and events

This could be as simple as tents on the dining tables, flyers pushed under apartment doors, programmed phone messages to all residents, and more personal reminders as staff interact with residents throughout the day.  One-dimensional communications such as printed calendars or posters in public spaces don’t work for everyone and may inadvertently lead to some residents being left out.

Involve residents in the planning

The residents in the Photovoice study said their assisted living community would feel more like home if they were part of the planning and implementation of activities. Here are two ways to do this during the holidays:

  • Draw on residents’ skills and hobbies to make decorations, pick (or provide) the music, and teach others. Let the residents decide what decorations to make and take them to shop for the materials.  Have the residents teach each other, family, and friends.

  • Learn more about residents’ life stories.  Talk to residents about their holiday memories and incorporate these into decorations and events.  This is one way to honor the different cultural and religious traditions that converge this time of year.

Incorporate family and friends in activities

Make decorating into a family event - or events.  There’s no need to do it all at once.  The holiday season goes on for weeks.  Rather than hosting one big event, consider having a series of smaller events that can involve family and friends in different ways.  

For example, early in the season, make decorations.  Hang the decorations at a later event. Another week, make and share gifts or have a holiday music event.

Have an event to decorate residents’ apartments (if they choose), not just the common areas.  Help them share their unique touch with a holiday apartment tour.

For more ideas, stop by Seniorly to see what’s new or follow these links:

Celebrate the holidays with a loved one in assisted living

Celebrating holidays in an assisted living facility

About Amanda Woodward

Amanda Toler Woodward, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University. She does research on services and supports for older adults including racial and ethnic disparities in access to services and international comparisons of service systems. She writes about a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia, and whatever else catches her fancy at

Other Articles written by Amanda Woodward

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