Making holidays special for seniors

Jessica Schaeffer, Morning Pointe community relations director, decorates The Lantern at Morning Pointe lobby for Christmas.

Some Loudon County senior centers are working hard to ensure residents enjoy holiday spirit despite coronavirus concerns keeping many of them separated from families.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are times usually spent with others in holiday festivities. COVID-19 has especially affected people in older-age demographics and living in assisted living centers.

Angela Smith, The Neighborhood at Tellico Village executive director, said she and her staff try to make every day special for residents by hosting candlelit dinners often.

“Normally, we have family nights, and this year we’re not going to have family nights like we do,” Smith said. “It’s only the in-house residents. We have different candlelight dinners and things like that, so as long as we keep them separated from the outside and maintain diligence, we’re keeping them safe and staying safe as well.”

The dinners are themed for the holidays. Two days before Thanksgiving, residents enjoyed a meal.

Residents at River Grove Health and Rehabilitation also enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal. They got to FaceTime family members while they ate, so it was like they were together for the holiday, Alissa Weeks, activities director, said.

River Grove had several window visits on Thanksgiving Day. Weeks said she’s been trying to keep residents as busy as possible but “family engagement is really hard right now.”

Residents dressed up and posed in front of fall scenery set up inside so families could have fall photos of loved ones, Weeks said.

Jessica Schaeffer, Morning Pointe community relations director, said residents enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal with “all the favorites.”

One of the highlights of the Thanksgiving holiday at Morning Pointe was the “thankful tree.”

“We do have our thankful tree that’s happening, and, actually, the thankful tree is going to be placed (in the foyer) so our families can continue to add to it because staff, residents and families have added little sayings of things they’re thankful for this holiday season,” Schaeffer said.

For Christmas at River Grove, Weeks hopes to have a Christmas parade.

“Not set in stone, but we’re wanting to have like a drive-through Christmas parade,” she said. “Of course, it’ll probably be too cold outside for the residents, so we’re just trying to make it where we have a good game plan of how we could do that. But I really want to plan a drive-through Christmas parade, whether it be while they’re in their rooms and have families come by and just go through the windows and see everybody through the windows and ask the families to make posters to come by and stuff like that.”

At Morning Pointe and The Lantern at Morning Pointe, the festival of trees collection officially began Monday. Schaeffer is asking individuals, churches and businesses to bring by Christmas trees, a minimum of 3-feet tall, to be raffled off to residents so they’ll have a tree in their apartment on Christmas Day.

Schaeffer has also decided to make decorations over-the-top this year.

“We’re literally decking the halls,” she said. “We love to decorate for the holidays, but this year we’re really going overboard just because we want to give our residents a really good holiday experience. Meals, everything’s going to go overboard.”

She has a decorating contest planned and is encouraging families to decorate loved ones’ windows while staff will decorate doors.

“We also have something called Morning Pointe in Motion,” Schaeffer said. “It’s something to really keep our residents active, especially while they’re not able to be in and out of the community like they’re used to. Through the month of December, we’ll be traveling to England. That’s kind of our theme, so we’ll be talking about the English Christmas and having teas and all that fun stuff that goes along with a cozy English Christmas.”

Planning fun holiday events and making residents feel special is important because of how COVID-19 has affected them and their families, Weeks said.

“(The residents) are sad,” she said. “They don’t understand why their family can’t come in, especially with dementia. You remember when they tell you, but 10 minutes later you don’t remember why your family’s not coming in, why your family’s not seeing you like they should be seeing you, and it’s just really hard on them because they do miss their families. A phone call is great because it’s the next best thing you can get, but it’s nothing like a warm welcoming hug for the holidays.”