Decorating an elderly loved one’s house, senior living apartment, or nursing home room for the holidays can help both of you get into the holiday spirit. However, certain considerations must be made to ensure their decorations don’t pose any safety risks.
How to Decorate an Elder’s Home Safely
- Don’t roast chestnuts on an open fire.
The holidays tend to involve a lot of fire in various forms. Candles are used for decoration and in many religious celebrations, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Fireplaces are used to warm up the house, burn yule logs and roast chestnuts. But, open flames can be dangerous, especially for seniors who are forgetful or who aren’t able to react quickly in an emergency.
Use battery-operated candles in lieu of real ones if possible. For fire-free ambiance, play a broadcast or recording of a burning yule log. During the holidays, there are usually several stations that show continuous, commercial-free video loops of burning fireplaces. If your loved one lives in a colder climate and has traditionally used their fireplace as a source of warmth, look into alternative heating systems that don’t use open flames, such as electric fireplaces and portable space heaters.
- Oh, (fake) Christmas tree.
A fire-resistant faux Christmas tree is the best option when decorating a senior’s home or apartment. These trees come in a wide variety of sizes, are far less likely to catch on fire, and do not require the consistent watering or cleanup that their live counterparts do. Due to the fire risk and mess, many senior housing communities, nursing homes and hospitals don’t allow real trees. To give a fake tree a more authentic smell, you can buy special pine-scented ornaments to place strategically on the tree. Make sure any electrical cords for the lights are secured well away from walking paths so they do not present a fall hazard.
- Hang stockings and ornaments with care.
Invest in safety hooks and shatter-proof ornaments to make trimming the tree and hanging decorations safer for all involved. You might also consider using bits of festive ribbon to hang things. Either keep decorations within arm’s reach or personally see to any décor that must be placed up high to prevent a senior from getting out and climbing up on the ladder.
- Use caution when plugging in the Menorah.
Assuming you took the first tip to heart, you’ll be dealing with a good deal of electrical lighting during the holidays. Inspect all wires and plugs to ensure they aren’t damaged or frayed. Look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label to determine whether lights have been approved for indoor use, outdoor use or both. Lights and electrical décor with a green UL label (or silver with green text) are intended for indoor use, while outdoor products feature a red UL label (or silver with red text). If the UL label is missing or there is any doubt about a decoration’s approved use, only use it inside. Putting lights and lit decorations on a timer can be convenient as well, especially for elders who tend to be forgetful.
Try to include your elderly loved one in the decorating process as much as possible. Just be sure to give them tasks that aren’t too difficult or potentially hazardous. If they have limited mobility or cognitive abilities, a better alternative might be to give them a cup of hot chocolate or eggnog and turn on some festive music while you put up the decorations nearby. This will help them feel involved even if they can’t participate in trimming the tree or decking the halls.