While some residents may go to the homes of family or friends, many will remain in the nursing home on Thanksgiving missing traditional activities they shared in the past with their loved ones. Therefore, nursing homes can fill the gap and celebrate the holiday with patients. Thanksgiving ideas for seniors in nursing homes can be traditional, or they can introduce new activities to mark the occasion.
Traditional Thanksgiving Activities for Seniors
For years, nursing homes have celebrated Thanksgiving with some of the age old traditions that families all across the United States celebrate each year. These classic events help many senior citizens adapt to life in a nursing home, because there are some familiar activities. These traditions are often a comfort in the twilight years.
Most nursing homes offer a Thanksgiving dinner or turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. These are dishes that residents recognize from the time they were children until present day. Usually a few treats are thrown in as well, such as pumpkin pie and special beverages. Thanksgiving cookies, cut in traditional shapes such as turkeys, pumpkins, and cornucopias are also welcome treats around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Adding a few Thanksgiving themed touches to the common social areas of the nursing home and to individual rooms can set the mood for the holiday. A cornucopia filled with pumpkins, corn, gourds and other autumn produce makes a colorful centerpiece in a dining room or activity room. Windows in residents' rooms can be decorated with bright-colored leaves cut from construction paper, fabric, craft foam, or translucent paper or plastic. Patterns can be cut from a printed design or the colored leaves can be cut from the printed paper. Construction paper or craft foam leaves can be used to create wreaths for the doors or resident rooms. Glue the leaves to a grapevine or Styrofoam base. Add a bow, if desired.
Invite residents to share a life event or experience for which they are thankful. This can occur at Thanksgiving dinner or at craft or musical activity. A staff member may need to time the oral recollections to assure everyone gets to talk and that no one falls asleep during overly long stories.
Unique Ideas for Thanksgiving
Although it is important to stick with some familiar activities, there are also some unique ideas that can help residents celebrate Thanksgiving. These are a good way to connect with other residents and family members who may only visit occasionally, or may live too far away to make it in for the holiday.
Grandparent and Grandchild Pumpkins
Create a mock pumpkin patch in the nursing home common area. The patch can be accessorized with hay bales and even a scarecrow. Find out in advance how many grandchildren can attend a pumpkin decorating event with their grandparent or great grandparent, and buy sufficient pumpkins for both grandparents and kids. Instead of carving pumpkins, let kids and their grandparents decorate the pumpkins with washable acrylic paints. Ribbons, artificial flowers, feathers and other items can also be used to decorate the pumpkins.
Youth Chorus or Play
Invite an elementary school class or youth group to sing Thanksgiving songs or put on a Thanksgiving play for the residents. This should be planned with school personnel or youth leaders well in advance of the holiday and can occur a day or two before the holiday.
Create a true trunk and branches on a large piece of tag board or butcher paper that can be hung on the wall. Provide residents with pre-cut paper leaves and ask them to write what they are thankful for on their leaves. Then, attach the leaves to the tree branches with tape or with glue dots.
If your home participates in a secret Santa program or a gift exchange between residents, Thanksgiving Day is a good time to draw names. Secret Santa can be as simple as writing one another letters of encouragement, or it can include small gifts as well.
Pinecone Turkey Place Cards
Cute turkey place cards can be made from pinecones. Each resident will need a pinecone, warm-colored construction paper pre-cut into ¼ to ½ inch strips, a bright-colored pompom, small plastic eye, white glue, and scissors. Have residents cut paper strips into short lengths that will be the turkey's tail feathers. The strips can then be glued into the spaces in the bottom of the pinecone. The pompom can be glued to the stem of the pinecone as a head. A triangle of construction paper can be glued to the head for a beak. On a larger strip of paper, the resident can write her name and insert it among the "tail feathers." The card can be used for the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Start a New Tradition or Two
While traditional Thanksgiving activities bring back treasured memories, new activities can stimulate nursing home residents and help them enjoy the here and now. Group activities, whether they involve music, craft activities, or providing an audience for a youth performance, can promote socialization and participation, which contribute to the physical and mental health of nursing home residents.