As I leaned down to release the brake on Pat’s wheelchair, I realized my “bunch of purple grapes” costume might not have been the most practical choice for the Halloween party at the retirement community. I’d pinned twenty balloons to my clothing, making navigation difficult. Still, the crowd clapped and cheered as the Brain Fitness Coordinator in costume as “bunch of green grapes” and I twirled down the path during the costume parade. People who live and work in the retirement community and children from the neighboring school took turns showing off their costumes. The Dance/Movement Therapist led everyone in making his or her spookiest sounds and movements. I read a Ukrainian ghost story to the crowd. We all danced to Monster Mash. I reflected upon the event later, the first of the season’s holiday bashes. What is the role of holiday celebration in a retirement community? How can celebrating the holidays be a meaningful source of engagement, rather than entertainment?
Celebratory, not childish
Aging settings that promote culture change
recognize the importance of choosing language that does not infantilize older adults. Holiday celebrations can easily go the route of becoming childish, so holiday event facilitators need to look for ways to maintain dignity and remember that this is a party for adults, while still allowing for a child-like sense of play that many people enjoy during the holidays. This consideration is important in many aspects of the event, including language, music choices, and decorations. At our Halloween event, the Dance/Movement Therapist encouraged the participants to create their own creepy environment, rather than passively listen to sound effects on tape.
Maintaining a sense of home
Each individual has his or her own set of cultural and familial traditions for the holidays. Event coordinators can encourage the extension of some of these traditions by being genuinely curious and asking questions about what kinds of traditions are important and which holidays they celebrate according to their religions and cultures. Maybe one woman loved to make handmade place cards for Thanksgiving dinner when she lived at home—can she do the same for her neighbors in her new environment?
Sensitivity to life changes
Many older adults experience sadness
during the holidays due to memories of loved ones who have passed and shifts in role from host to guest. During group events, facilitators should be sensitive to emotions that may arise. In the middle of a Christmas carol during a holiday celebration last year, I noticed a woman crying in the back of the room. I sat with her and held her hand. I was careful not to ask her to stop crying, which could invalidate her feelings. The tears gradually stopped anyway, as she squeezed my hand and shared a memory of a family Christmas with me. What else should be considered during holiday celebrations?
“For more on meaningful engagement with older adults, take a look at Is It Art Therapy? Distinguishing Art Therapy from Arts & Crafts
, Dancing Through Dementia: Application for non-Dance/Movement Therapists
, and Intergenerational Programming: Linking Generations in Service and Knowledge
Thanks to Elyse Baylis for editing this post and Sarah_Ackerman
for the photo.