The holiday season can be more sad than joyful for some. It can be an especially tough time of year for senior citizens alone at home or in nursing and assisted living facilities.
Simply putting up Christmas decorations livens up residents at Waterford Gardens Assisted Living in Dunwoody, said Yvonne Kouassi, a nurse there.
"Some see all the decorations and ask 'What day is this,' she said. "I tell them Christmas is just around the corner."
The nurse considers the Waterford residents an extension of her own family, she said.
Kouassi lost her parents when she was just two years old, which contributes to her feeling close to the residents. She spends time with the residents on her off days, and her 14-year-old son has grown close to many of them.
Christmastime is a natural time for reflection, which for some can bring on regret, sadness and loneliness. It's up to family members and caregivers to see the signs of depression, according to the American Geriatric Society's Foundation for Health in Aging.
Seniors want to be active and feel a sense of relevance. Three times a week I visit with an Alzheimer's resident at a nursing home. Her face lights up as soon as I walk in the room. I don't know if she remembers everything we do, but as we work on crossword puzzles, read through the newspaper, exercise and even toss a small bean bag, she is in the moment having fun.
What can you do to help engage elderly loved ones in your life?
Sign them up for a program at the Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex. There are a host of activities that range from card games to aquatic therapy to language classes. And there is an adult daycare program.
Have them engage in storytelling. Impaired memories can make it difficult to remember recent events but many seniors remember rich stories from the past.
Phone once a day or visit once per week. Even a brief visit resonates and shows they matter to you.
Family members and friends are essential advocates for seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. It's up to them to pay close attention to the care their loved one receives. In addition to helping their well-being, it can give them great comfort.
The greatest source of comfort can be a hug. The simple gesture of an embrace can do wonders.
The Dorothy C. Benson Senior Center is located at 6500 Mount Vernon Woods Drive, Sandy Springs. 404-705-4900, www.bensonscenter.org.