Caring for Elderly Parents? Why Not Throw a Party?Caring for Elderly Parents- Why Not Throw a Party-

In her memoir, The Gift of Caring, writer Marcy Cottrell Houle describes the parties her family held for her aging father to liven up his nursing home routine. A special occasion or holiday is a natural time to host a gathering for your parents and their fellow residents, but you can pull together a shindig any time without a big investment of effort or money. Here’s a quick list of steps for spur-of-the-moment gatherings to make ordinary days special for someone you love.

Check with the facility to reserve space

Most nursing homes have a common room you can reserve for family gatherings. You may also be able to set up your mini-event in a corner of the dining hall or in a courtyard during good weather.

Choose the right food and beverages

Bring your parents’ favorite food and drinks or find a good substitute. Houle’s father could no longer have champagne so she protected his health and maintained the party mood by serving sparkling cider in plastic champagne flutes. If your loved ones or other attendees have food allergies or major dietary restrictions, keep those in mind when planning your snacks.

Pick a theme or an activity

When there’s a birthday or anniversary coming up, you’ve got a reason to celebrate. When nothing’s on the calendar, make up a reason to party based on something your parent likes or remembers. Your gathering could have a fishing theme, a storytelling contest, a photo-collage activity, or a singalong if there’s a piano and someone to play. When you’re fresh out of theme ideas, host a game party with classic favorites like dominos, card games, bunco or bingo.

Take it outside

When the weather’s nice, ask if you can set up simple games like bean bag toss or plastic horseshoes outdoors. Croquet is another option if your parents are able to play. Bring a picnic style meal and bubble soap and wands for a mess-free and eye-catching activity.

Keep your plans simple

The point of these parties is to stay connected and vary your loved ones’ daily routine, not to impress anyone with your craftiness. Houle wrote, “These revelries allowed us to keep a shred of lightness and gaiety in our lives together.” That’s easier if you’re relaxed. Buy some inexpensive paper tableware and decorations in bulk from the local party supply place or order them online, and you’ll be ready to host on a whim.

Have an open door policy

Welcome other residents and staff members to your parties. Gatherings are a good way to get to know the residents, volunteers and staff members your parent spends time with, and they can help your parents build stronger connections in the community. Other families may return the favor by including your loved ones in their gatherings, too.

Make and share party memories

This may feel like a challenge, because watching a beloved parent or grandparent cope with a decline in health or cognition is heartbreaking. But these moments are precious, too. Take and print party photos to share with your parents. This gives them a record of recent events and reminds them of the important people in their lives. Fresh photos make a good conversation starter for staffers and other residents. They can also help you and your family see your loved ones as not just people who’ve lost memories or vigor but as people who still connect in their own way to those they love. That’s something worth celebrating.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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