Holidays can be wonderful - packed with fun times and great memories. Holidays can be extremely stressful - offering few emotional rewards. Planning can make all the difference, especially when hosting a loved one who has unique needs.
Most families in the Unites States have at least one family member or close family friend with some type of disability. Perhaps a special needs child, or someone with a brain injury or chronic disease, or an elderly relative with dementia, sensory issues, or mobility challenges. These people are valued members of our nuclear and extended families and of our communities. Including them in our holiday celebrations is what we do.
Plan ahead - far ahead, and consider what needs must be met for the visit to go smoothly:
- Overall expectations?
- Entering and exiting the home?
- Passage through the house - including stairs?
- Bathroom use?
- Rest periods?
- Medication schedules?
Talk to your guest and to caregivers to get an accurate picture of what needs must be met and for ideas about how best to do that. Be creative!
Circumstances may mean that the way things "have always been done" will change. Better to have a healthy change, such as a grab bag gift exchange, than to force activities upon people who simply cannot manage them. (That approach almost guarantees no one will have a good time.)
Once you have the basics in place, make sure everyone is on the same page. Good communication with all guests ahead of time will ensure everyone has realistic expectations about how the day will go. It may be different than prior years, an that may make it better.
Before the holidays it is a perfect time to clear away clutter. Without clutter, those with mobility devices are more likely to have ample room to maneuver and are less likely to tip, trip, or fall. And without clutter, those with decreased vision are less confused by what is around them, less likely to stumble.
Give any children who will be attending notice that they will be enlisted to keep clutter at bay during the gathering to prevent accidents.
When decorating, keep handrails clear of decorations such as garlands that interfere with handholds, putting people at risk for falls, and keep steps clear.
Make sure the lighting is good in every room - no shadows, no glare. Ample lighting helps people judge distances accurately and identify walls, countertops, as well as potential obstacles or hazards.
If guests have mobility issues, then prepare to put away throw rugs during the celebration. These frequently cause tripping accidents when people cannot lift their feet high enough to step over rug edges. Edges can also pose barriers to wheelchairs.
Consider hiring a professional caregiver if the situation calls for it.
How will your love one with a disablity get in and out of your home? What will work best - front door, back door, side door, garage?
Does he or she have balance or co-ordination issues? If you have steps, how does the person normally handle steps? Is there a door threshold to step over? Does he or she use a mobility device? If so, how will that device be transported to your home? How will you get it inside?
If there are any entry obstacles, then you might find it smart to invest in a folding portable ramp or short threshold ramp.
Once inside, people with balance issues, sight impairment, or mobility devices will need to get from place to place and need to be engaged in a variety of activities.
Are travel lanes and hallways within the house wide enough and clear enough to accommodate a scooter, wheelchair, walker, or crutches? If not, then move any potential obstacles well out of the way and rearrange the furniture.
Will the guest need:
- Grab bar(s)?
- Toilet arms?
- Higher seat?
- Transfer board
- Non-skid strips on tub or shower floor?
- Bath chair?
- Non-skid bathmat for bathroom floor?
If he or she requires some assistance, how will that be provided? Will a caregiver be accompanying the guest? Might you want to hire a professional for the visit?
For some people, a small, folding walker is easily maneuverable indoors. And some find a transfer board or swivel bath seat simplifies the transfer process.
People with disabilities are often using a variety of medications, each one with rather specific timing, interactions, and other factors. There may be some flexibility when and how the medication is taken, or there may be none.
Asking your guest or a caregiver about these well ahead of time will help you adapt and plan your menu, schedule, and pace. Planning a festive menu for a dozen or more people of varying generations and tastes is already a challenge. Trying to make last second adjustments is often doomed to frustration, embarrassment, and failure.
For example you can serve sparkling fruit juices for those unable to have wine with dinner. You can rely more upon fresh vegetables and fruits rather than prepared or processed foods. You can try making whipped yogurt topping in place of whipped cream. Search the internet for recipes that meet dietary needs, yet are beautiful to serve, and delicious to eat.