5 Tips for Spreading Joy to Nursing Home Residents at the Holidays

Remembering nursing home residents at the holidays from Red White and Grew

This post is part of a blog hop, A Season of Giving: 31 Days of Spreading Joy (#spreadingjoy).

During the winter holidays, many nursing home residents feel overlooked and forgotten. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. You and your family can help ease their sadness.

If you’d like to spread happiness to these folks this December, I’ve put together some practical tips for you. Feel free to scale these ideas up or down to fit your family’s budget and schedule. (And special thanks to the staff of my own mother’s nursing home for vetting these suggestions.)

1. Ask how you can help. Before investing money for gifts or deciding how you will help, try calling your local nursing home to consult with the activities coordinator to assess real needs. Working with the staff will help ensure that what you do has the greatest, most lasting impact, too.

Options and rules about gift giving and volunteering vary by facility. There may be opportunities for you to help distribute coffee at the monthly Bunco game, visit with a bedridden elder after lunch, help with church services, or read the newspaper to a group of residents. Or maybe you can bring your kids, dressed in their holiday finery, by the facility to sing carols.

2. Participate in community gift campaigns. In the little town where my mom lives, one church usually sets up a Christmas giving program for area elders. Requested items are specific to individuals in the community; activities coordinators help work up a wish list tailored to individual patients. All shoppers have to do is go to the store, select items, pay for them, and return them to the church coordinator who delivers them to the nursing facility.

Be a Santa to a Senior is a similar program, and it connects givers with seniors (not just nursing home residents) nationwide through giving trees at various businesses. You can look up options by your Zip Code.

3. Adopt an elder. There’s a prevailing notion that everyone living in a nursing facility is suffering from dementia and that all the fun, alert folks live in assisted living centers.

This isn’t true.

Chances are that there are one or two physically disabled (but mentally sound) residents in your nearest nursing home who could use a new friend. Perhaps you can use the holiday season as a good way to meet someone new and build a relationship that lasts into the New Year—and beyond. One of my mother’s most treasured friends is a woman from a local church who visits weekly and has for almost three years. This dear lady is a gift to us all.

4. Offer simple things. Let’s say you really want to give something tangible and you’ve cleared it with the activities coordinator. Whatever the season, the sweetest, most beloved gifts are the simplest—and usually the cheapest. Handmade cards, easy-to-peel Clementine oranges, pocket-sized tissues, gloves, socks, unscented lotion, and Chapstick are all appreciated. Be sure to ask if wrapped items are acceptable. If so, make sure that the packages are easy to open. (Bags with tissue are great for people with hands ravaged by arthritis.) And remember that many elders deal with diabetes and other health issues so sugary sweets are tricky.

While it’s wonderful if you can afford to bring enough small items for everyone in a nursing home, it’s also lovely if you choose to give a few things to a handful of residents—or one item to an especially needy individual resident—selected by the staff.

5. Nurture the caregivers. Working in a nursing home is a physically and emotionally challenging occupation, especially during the winter months when illnesses are frequent and death is commonplace.

If you want to do something sweet for nursing home staff members—specifically the nurses and nurse’s aides who are on the front lines of caregiving, then consider calling the facility’s director of nursing and asking her if you can bring food, treats, or fresh flowers to the staff at a designated time. In lifting the staff’s spirits with your gift of gratitude, you very well may help foster holiday cheer for all.

Staff members may also appreciate little gifts like those listed in #4. You could arrange to deliver enough items—a couple of crates of tangerines or plenty of holiday cards, for example–for staff and residents alike to enjoy during Christmas week. What a treat that would be.

Do you work or volunteer in a nursing home? Do you have an elder residing in one now? I’d love to hear your tips on this topic in comments.

Don’t forget to read the other posts in the blog hop and/or follow the Pinterest board featuring all the contributions.


  1. A few years back we had the preteens in our church buy small, inexpensive gifts (pens, calendars, slippers, etc) and then we took them to a local nursing home (we organized this with the facility beforehand). And then the preteens would select gifts for different residents and would go in to each room and distribute them. While the gift itself was insignificant, it was wonderful watching our preteens give hugs, share smiles, and just listen to the residents. The longer we were there, the more comfortable they became and they loved the community service. The residents and staff were all so welcoming and we keep talking about repeating this activity again!

    • I love this, Ashley. Thanks for sharing.

      When I was in high school, our Keywanettes club made Valentine’s Day items for the VA hospital near my hometown. Then our sponsors delivered everything. Taking the youth to the facility, when appropriate, is a great way to bridge the gap between young and old.

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  3. This year my boys trained a bunch of their friends on how to do magic tricks and we drove to our local nursing home as a group. For the next hour, the kids amazed and Wowed the residents with their magical skills. It was a wonderful experience. Great points in this post!

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