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By Debbie Carlson, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Stress levels during the holidays often increase, and families with a relative residing in an assisted-living facility may fret about how to include the family member in celebrations. Typically, residents in assisted living — as opposed to nursing homes or independent living — are mobile enough to get around, but advanced age or health issues can limit their capabilities.

The burden can be twofold. Many families are unsure whether or not those relatives should leave their residence to join holiday celebrations. Also, they may be concerned about how much time they can or should devote to visit relatives, especially if distance is a factor.

“No matter how much you see your family in assisted living, I think you’re always going to feel like it wasn’t enough,” said Stephanie Zishka, co-owner of BrightStar Care of Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Ind., and a registered nurse. “Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t spend more time.”

Psychologists and administrators in these facilities say it’s important for families to try to balance their other obligations with visits to loved ones during the holidays. Here is some advice to consider.

Consult with the facility staff. Before deciding on whether or not to bring grandma home for the day, ask the facility staff if such a visit would be disruptive to the person or the host family. Zishka and Dr. Ildiko Tabori, a Los Angeles-based licensed clinical psychologist, said facility staff can help you determine if the relative is functioning well enough for a home visit. Additionally, they said, families need to review whether their home is equipped to accommodate the visitor, especially if he or she needs a mobility aid.

Maryann Crenny, administrator and director of operations at FilBen Group, a New York-based developer and manager of assisted-living properties, said to keep in mind that elderly people can tire easily, so be prepared to limit the visit. Don’t expect them to stay more than six hours, and keep early bedtimes in mind. It also would be wise to have someone available to drive them home at any time.

Decorate and deliver holiday reminders. Decorating the family member’s room with appropriate holiday items is recommended. (Check with facility staff for prohibited items.)

For example, Tabori said, “bringing a small Christmas tree, the kind you buy at the drugstore, is nice.”

The same applies to favorite foods. Again, consult with the nursing staff for any dietary restrictions.

Take advantage of technology. Jack York, chief executive of Colorado-based It’s Never 2 Late, which provides senior-friendly technology to assisted-living communities, said there are ways to relive past holidays using slide shows or videos.

For facilities without technology, families can bring in large-screen laptops or tablets. If visiting on-site isn’t possible, York said that facilities equipped with Wi-Fi can accommodate webcams to connect relatives on holidays.

Celebrating there: All ages welcome. Facilities will often have holiday parties and invite families to take part, Crenny said.

“The elderly residents do respond extremely well with children, even if (they’re) not their own. Children really bring residents to life,” she said.

Gifts to go around. When you’re celebrating at their place, don’t just bring presents for your relatives to open. Bring a round of gifts for everyone to open, Tabori said.

“The patient can still watch the enjoyment of a grandchild opening presents,” Tabori said.

It’s the visit that counts, not its length.

“Any sort of visit is good,” Zishka said. “Even a five-minute stop in can have a huge impact.”

Debbie Carlson is a freelance reporter.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Holidays with elderly relatives who are in an assisted living facility can present challenges, but the rewards are plentiful, whether you celebrate in their home or yours. (Arina Habich/Fotolia)

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