Cancelled events, curtailed travel and limited gatherings are challenging many people this holiday season — but none more so than the elderly, especially those who are housebound or in assisted living or nursing homes.

But there are many ways to brighten the holidays for seniors during the pandemic, according to Tammy Brown, activities director for care services at Wildewood Downs in northeast Columbia.

“You just have to be creative,” Brown said. “Social interaction is extremely important to slow the cognitive and physical decline you’ll see otherwise.”

Wildewood Downs, which offers a range of senior services from independent living to skilled nursing care, hasn’t allowed indoor visits for assisted living residents since the pandemic began. Watercrest Senior Living, another facility providing assisted living in northeast Columbia, now allows family visits with social distancing, according to Renada Weathersbee, community program director.

But both Brown and Weathersbee agree family members, students and volunteers have lots of options to support seniors while keeping them safe and healthy.

“It’s the holidays, and the first thing you think of is family,” Weathersbee said. “We really want to make sure we bring the holiday spirit to our residents.”

Some ideas include:

-Drop off cupcakes, cookies or other treats. All food must be commercially prepared and packaged, they caution, so leave the homemade specialties at home.

-Send cards, letters or poems. Both facilities also have pen pal programs for ongoing correspondence.

-Decorate small trees that can be brought inside. Decorating the outside of windows is also popular, especially for children.

-Provide prizes for bingo and other games. Puzzles and art supplies are often welcome.

-Organize a drive-by parade. Wildewood hosted a “Christmas in August” parade and a Veterans Day parade this year. Christmas, New Year’s or birthdays are other opportunities to celebrate.

-Perform outdoor entertainment. Carolers or other musicians can serenade residents safely from a distance.

Senior living facilities have varying needs and requirements. Those who want to support a facility in their community should contact its activities director to find out how they can get involved.

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