In 2015 approximately 400,000 men and women in the UK will be in a nursing or residential care home over the festive period. They are joined by immediate family and their extended “family” of nurses, care assistants, chefs and support staff, who work hard to make the festive period special for the residents within their home.
“It really is quite a magical time here”, says Maria Willis, the general manager of Barchester’s Ashchurch View. “It all begins in November when the residents start to make the Christmas decorations with the help of our activities team”.
“By the beginning of December the home is decorated; with home-made button wreaths on the doors to our resident’s rooms, paper chains throughout and a number of Christmas trees for the different areas of the home. We involve everyone in the preparations. The colour themes are always chosen by the residents’ Christmas Committee and even our nativity scene was knitted by a family member.”
This Christmas, Jessica Ruel, Head of Unit at Ashchurch, has chosen to spend the festive period with her residents for the third year in a row. She is more than happy to be at the home during this special time of the year.
“The lead up to Christmas is special as we have several trips to the local pantomime and events such as carol singing with local primary school children. The main event is our big Christmas Party. All the families are invited and the residents love it; there is singing, dancing and lots of traditional party games.”
Pat, one of the residents, said “I have always had fun here at Christmas; the singing, making things and the people are wonderful. Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are such good fun.”
Jessica continued “All our Christmas activities are carefully considered to ensure they are tailored for each resident; from dressing the tree and making paper chains, which keep minds and fingers nimble, to the more sensory activities, such as light displays and music, everything is appropriate for each person.”
“One of my favourite things is buying the residents gifts”, Jess mentions, “Each gift has to be really personal. It is always wonderful to see people opening their gifts and I have great fun thinking of things to buy.”
“I came to work for Barchester as a newly qualified nurse 6 years ago and I am now Head of Unit. During my time here I have particularly enjoyed developing my skills at looking after residents from a holistic point of view. I assess all areas of care for each resident; from an initial care plan to an ongoing care plan as needs change. I look at all elements of the plan, from medication to nutrition, to ensure residents are fully cared for, especially during the special Christmas and New Year period.”
“Christmas Day starts with a glass of bubbly at a champagne reception for families and residents. Many of the residents then go out with their families for the day. Christmas Day is so busy, but the home feels so energised and happy all at the same time. Every day working in the home is different but this one day is very special. One of the favourite things is the chef caving the turkey in front of those dining with us.”
New Year is a little more sedate, but is still celebrated with a champagne and canapé party and entertainment for the family and residents, although Jess jokes “All of our residents are tucked up in bed by midnight!”
There are also highs and low to the festive period, as Jess explains. “There has been a lot in the press recently about loneliness, highlighted by the Age UK ‘no one should have no one’ campaign. There are some residents whose families can’t be here at Christmas time, but very often other families will stop and say hello and everyone who is in the home eats together in the dining room for lunch.”
The festive period is also a time when loved ones are remembered. “We encourage everyone to talk about their past and remember previous Christmases, this is especially relevant for our residents with dementia as it helps them to reconnect.”
“I firmly believe that nursing is a vocation and not just a job. I get to spend my year fulfilling others’ needs and making sure they are safe and looked after. I enjoy my job all year round, but Iove working at Christmas and New Year as they so special.”