As the pandemic rages on across the U.S., senior communities are impacted uniquely with rooms full of high-risk seniors. The holiday season is normally a happy, family-oriented time, and while the pandemic has put a barrier up, there are still ways to connect and celebrate with the community outside their four walls.

Partnerships with families, local schools, charities, and other groups outside of the senior community can be a huge advantage in keeping residents engaged and cheerful in the holiday season.

With safety in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 10 activities to execute during this time to keep residents engaged while also creating lasting partnerships that are win-wins!

1. Pen Pals

The tried and true pen-pal activity is particularly fun this time of year, with more to talk about with elementary and middle school-aged kids excited for Santa to come!

Creating a pen-pal system will keep up conversations between students and seniors, and can be done through the mail with a card or via email.

Teachers can use this pen pal relationship to work on spelling, grammar, and storytelling with their students and residents will love the consistent communication with the kids.

2. Family Feud

If you’re familiar with this long-running TV game show, you know families work together to guess the most common answer to questions. This game would be fun to play virtually with families, guessing the popular answers from seniors in the community.

Your community would start by asking residents a series of questions, and counting the answers to each.

Questions might include:

  • “What is your favorite part of growing old?”
  • “What do you regret most?”
  • “What is your favorite activity to do independently?”

Residents will play with their families via video call and try to guess the most common answer!

Similar to this game, families can play other games via video chat like charades or Pictionary.

3. Judging Contest

To involve families, communities can announce a call for families to send or bring in something for the residents to judge.

Establish a “due” date and set a time for residents to vote. You may use an activity cart to bring the choices to each room, or set up in a common area where residents are free to drop by and examine throughout the day.

Things for families to send in:

  • A box wrapped beautifully
  • A delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe
  • A photo of their Christmas tree decorated

4. Adopt a Resident

The “adopt a resident” idea isn’t new, but it’s a great way to create or strengthen a relationship between a resident and a community member.

Partnering with a grade school class or local company allows for residents to engage with someone new and discuss the things they love. The community will then make or purchase things for the resident they have adopted!

Tip: Create a questionnaire for each resident to fill out with their favorite color, snacks, etc. to give to the people adopting them.

5. Raffle

Having a fun holiday-themed raffle for residents will get anyone interested from the community involved.

Local churches, restaurants, schools, or neighbors will create a unique basket to donate to the community for a raffle. Restaurants who aren’t open or small businesses who have been forced to close can use this as free publicity and a way to market their business.

6. Caroling or Parade by Facility

Set up a holiday parade or night of caroling for residents to watch from their windows!

This is another option for anyone in the community who is interested. Getting in the holiday spirit often includes watching the parades on tv or opening the door to the carolers each year. Make this possible with a socially distanced parade for residents by their windows!

7. Help a Local Charity

Charities work double-time during the holiday season, and residents may be interested in getting involved with helping those less fortunate.

Charities may need help with:

  • Bagging gifts
  • Bagging canned goods
  • Writing cards

Teaming up with charities is a feel-good activity to help the homeless or less fortunate.

8. Teach a Class

Partnering with university classes and students opens up a ton of possibilities. Either the students teaching the residents or vice versa.

Residents may teach things like:

  • History from their point of view
  • Health conditions

Students may teach things like:

  • A cooking class
  • An art class
  • Slang words of the year

Either of these options is great in getting residents reminiscing and keeping them engaged.

9. Book Club

The book club will provide multiple ways to keep residents engaged. A book club can be with family or students.

Starting up a book club is simple:

  1. Gather your club via sign up on social media or a letter to families
  2. Choose a book appropriate for the group
  3. Do a weekly or biweekly virtual group discussion

10. Family & Intergenerational Connection

Consider technologies that are easy to use by staff and family alike to keep in touch. An easy app to use is Tiny Talks which helps people and organizations build stronger, more inclusive communities by making it easy for community members to connect with one another for short, random, one-on-one video chats. Tiny Talks chats only last seven minutes — just enough time to kindle a connection which is great for busy grandkids and staff.

Bring Communities Together While Apart

Isolation and loneliness are huge concerns for senior communities in these times of COVID-19. By brainstorming and creating ways to bring the community outside into the facility, you’re increasing engagement, belonging, and holiday cheer. There are tons of ways to get the communities outside your senior community involved, and chances are they’ll be more than happy to take part in this holiday season with your seniors.

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