We are in a “shadow” this year: the shadow of isolation, loneliness, and boredom of the panic and shutdowns. The pandemic has left nothing untouched. This includes our treasured winter holidays.

As county and state officials begin adding restrictions back to gathering sizes, questions will come up about what to do about holiday celebrations. How can you spread love and cheer to loved ones who are isolated? How can you do this safely?

What is happening in long-term care?

First, you need to understand the types of loneliness experienced by people during this hard time. This way, families can see the needs of their loved ones and plan activities to help them. VOYCE Program Director Chien Hung says there are seven types of loneliness. Each is defined in the linked webinar at the bottom of this page:

  • “New Situation” Loneliness
  • “I’m Different” Loneliness
  • “No Sweetheart” Loneliness
  • “No Animal” Loneliness
  • “No Time for Me” Loneliness
  • “Untrustworthy Friends” Loneliness
  • “Quiet Presence” Loneliness

Each county is at a different place in their facility reopening process. Their ability to open for visitors depends on the rates of COVID-19 infection they experience. With the disease on the rise, you should not expect your loved ones’ home to open soon. Check for the newest information on facility openings from CMS or your state’s DHSS.

Create Joy!

Now, what to do about those celebration plans? Luckily, there are many ways to include nursing home residents or older family members in your plans – while maintaining safety! Some ideas are:

Virtual Caroling

Get the whole family together on video chat! Each home should pick their favorite tune. Take turns performing for each other on camera. Or, each household can take turns calling their long-term care resident to sing. This feels just like door-to-door caroling!

Virtual Holiday Dinner

This is a good alternative to large, in-person parties. Set a festive table and make sure to leave a place for your virtual guest. Then, connect with other family members to eat dinner at the same time.

If your family member is unable to cook for themself or is in a facility, package single portions or the meal to deliver to them. You can also arrange for a favorite meal to be delivered to someone’s home through an app like DoorDash, GrubHub, or Uber Eats.

12 Days of Christmas & 8 Nights of Hanukkah

Let your loved one(s) know you are still thinking of them with a treat for each day! Pick out a selection of cards, treats, and gifts to deliver daily. If your loved one lives at home, place the items on their front step for contactless delivery. Gifting to someone in a facility? Ask a trusted staff member to deliver the items for you!

Holiday-Themed Game Shows

I’ll take “socially distanced fun” for $200, Alex! There are many themed game show templates that you can find online to play virtually. Try Holiday Jeopardy, or The Price is Right: Thanksgiving Edition. This is a great idea to play on video chat.

Incorporate an isolated loved one easily: if they are able, ask them to help come up with questions or trivia. You can also send them a game sheet to fill out ahead of time, then reveal each player’s answers on a phone call. Or, record your game session so they can watch later as if they are watching a real TV show!

You can get more details about these and many other fun ideas by downloading these slides!

Important Safety Tips

Remember that ANY in-person event means there is a risk of catching COVID-19, especially in older or sick people. You may have COVID-19 even if you have very recently tested negative or have no symptoms. For this reason, socially distanced holidays are advised this year.

If you choose to continue with your usual celebrations or take your loved one to a social activity, be sure to follow proper safety protocols. This includes: maintaining a large distance from other groups, washing hands or using sanitizer frequently, and using PPE like face masks.

Communication is important. Try some of the ideas listed here! But don’t forget that many ideas will need good communication with staff, the residents, and medical experts. Plan Zoom or web chat meetings with facility nurses and staff in mind. They have many tasks and patients and will need advanced notice to help out!

Additionally, remember to meet your loved ones where they are. We are all more lonely and stressed this year. Those who are isolated feel this more than we may realize. Activities should be inclusive; in other words, make sure you talk to your loved one on your virtual meet rather than forget that they are there! Include them as if they were sitting right next to you.

Finally, games should not be very competitive. Validate the love and care you have for family and friends with these games. It’s not all about winning.

From all of us at VOYCE, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!


  1. 1
    Suzanne Wanninger on December 15, 2020

    Please help my family find a skilled nursing facility with rehab for my 38 year old son who was diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer on Jan 8. He is currently in Slu hospital, and the dr wants him to go to a skilled facility with rehab when he leaves the hospital for the time being. He has an ng tube right now for meds and nutrition. He’s married with a precious 18 mo old son. He’s such a fighter and never complains. Would you be able to help us? Also, we have not been able to see him since he was admitted this past Thursday. Thank you, and God bless you. Suzanne Wanninger. 314-805-1168. A closer facility would be nice, but we will drive a bit to get appropriate place for him, clean, compassionate, knowledgeable, and optimistic!! Thank you so much. I live in 63304 area code, my daughter’s in O’Fallon, and Matt is in 63301. I’ll try calling tomorrow.

    1. 2
      lsykes on December 17, 2020

      Hello, Suzanne. I will have our VOYCEconnect specialist, Goeun, reach out to you.

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