Christmas can be a time of mixed emotions for many of us. While there are times of joy, there can also be times of overwhelm and stress – particularly if you are celebrating Christmas with a loved one in aged care.

If this is your first Christmas with a loved one living in care, whether it’s your mum, dad or partner then it will be a time to consider how you cope with the various emotions that are likely to come up, which could be a mixture of sadness, guilt or even anger. It’s important to know that while this Christmas will be different, it can still be a time of festivity and celebration.

Our CEO and aged care expert Dana Sawyer has put together her advice for celebrating Christmas in aged care.

Accepting change during the holidays

If this is your first Christmas with a loved one in aged care, it’s a time of great change and that can resurface emotions regarding guilt and sadness. I have previously written about why for most of us, there’s no reason to feel guilty about placing a loved one in aged care, as the vast majority of families make this decision because their parent is genuinely happier and safer there than at home.

So make sure to remind yourself that you know you made the best decision for your mum or dad. This may be the first Christmas they will not be in their own home, but they are likely to be a lot happier than they were, with the additional social interaction, nutritious meals and nursing care ensuring they are being looked after.

Most aged care homes also celebrate Christmas with festive decorations, a special Christmas menu and special activities or Christmas church services. Ask the aged care home manager what is planned for the holiday season. If your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas but other cultural holidays common at this time i.e. Chanukah, then ask about celebration options for these holidays.

Take mum/dad home for Christmas

An aged care home is just that – a home. Similar to when you are at home, you are free to come and go. Aged care homes in Australia allow for 52 days of social leave per year for residents (this is capped due to homes only wanting to provide rooms to people who genuinely need the 24/7 nursing care aged care homes provide).

Therefore why not plan to have mum or dad home for a few days at Christmas if this is an option? You will need to let the aged care staff know about your plans so they don’t worry about the whereabouts of your loved one.

However make sure to take daily care needs into consideration, are you able to make sure dad takes his medication, help feed or clothe if necessary? Consider all the small daily tasks an aged care nurse does for your loved one as part of your holiday planning.

If you’re starting to realise that you won’t be able to provide the necessary care, speak to the aged care staff about spending Christmas in the aged care home. Perhaps you can enjoy the Christmas feast with all the residents, bring some of your own Christmas treats to enjoy in the home’s lounge or exchange gifts in mum’s aged care bedroom.

Decorate their room with Christmas decorations

You can also add festive cheer by decorating your loved one’s aged care bedroom. Perhaps a Christmas wreath on the door, some tinsel or a small tree depending on what is suitable and safe. Christmas music is also a great option, if you can arrange a small stereo or even vinyl record player. Look for records of Christmas classics like Billy Holiday and Frank Sinatra – tunes your parents would like have grown up with. Music creates a calming, peaceful atmosphere and for those with cognitive decline, music from their youth can be a powerful method of relaxation.

Celebrating Christmas when parents have cognitive decline

One particular challenge is when your parent is experiencing cognitive decline, particularly if they have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Even if you want to bring your parent home, lots of new faces and noise can overwhelm them. An option is to keep the Christmas festivities in the aged care home or create a quiet space for your loved one. Dedicate a room that you can decorate with Christmas decorations, but everyone knows this is the ‘quiet room’ and is where grandpa or grandma can have some peace and quiet if needed.

Ageing loved ones often presents its challenges and the holiday season is no different. Just because this Christmas will be different from ones of the past, doesn’t mean it will be any less festive and joyful. No matter what stage of life we are in, having a merry Christmas is often a matter of perspective than circumstance.