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Make the season bright for a hospitalized loved one

  • December 19, 2011

From decorating a patient’s room to arranging for music or massage therapy, UAB experts offer tips to bring the holidays to the hospital.

There are few holiday presents worse than a hospital stay. But if a loved one or friend must be hospitalized this season, University of Alabama at Birmingham experts say you can take steps to ensure their holiday is still merry and bright.

hospital-holiday_story“Being in the hospital can be distressing for anybody,” says Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a UAB clinical psychologist. “While the psychological impact may be short-lived, the bottom line is people would rather be well and home than sick and away.

“The holidays are about social interactions, the sharing of emotions and connecting as humans, and there is nothing written that says this cannot occur in a hospital setting. Bring the holidays to the hospital,” Klapow explains.

How to do that, you ask?

“In addition to the hospital’s efforts to enhance the holiday spirit of our patients, like providing music therapy and collecting toys and stockings for the children, family and friends can also take part in a variety of ways,” explains Jordan DeMoss, assistant vice president of UAB Hospital.

First and foremost, visit and spend time with your loved one.

“The simple presence of familiar faces is sometimes all the comfort a patient needs while in the hospital,” DeMoss says.

Provided they are in a non-intensive care setting, DeMoss offers these tips for sharing holidays in the hospital:

  • Bring decorations like lights and stockings to their room when you visit.
  • If dietary rules allow, bring in your loved one’s favorite food or tell a nurse about their favorite holiday meal; the hospital chef might be able to prepare something special.
  • Ask care providers if a massage is safe for the patient; if so, arrange for a licensed  massage therapist to deliver a “house call” to your loved one in the hospital.
  • Inquire about in-room music therapy or bring in a stereo and play favorite holiday tunes.
  • Engaging in familiar activities – anything from knitting to video games – can help divert a patient’s mind from unfamiliar surroundings and bring a sense of routine and happiness.

If you can’t physically visit the hospital, DeMoss says to use technology to your advantage.

“Most hospitals have free Wi-Fi access throughout and Skype is a free and easy way to connect with loved ones who are far away,” DeMoss says.

You don’t have to have know someone in the hospital to spread cheer to them, says Terri Middlebrooks, R.N., nurse manager in the Acute Care for Elders unit at UAB Highlands Hospital.

“Last year I told my daughter about a patient on our floor who had no family or friends to visit him. She brought a Christmas tree to his room,” Middlebrooks says. “Soon enough, the whole staff was participating and bringing him presents and other goodies.”

Whether it’s a friend, family member or a stranger, Klapow says to be sure the patient knows you’re there by choice, they aren’t ruining your holiday.

“Convey to them that you are celebrating that they are here with you. Focus on the meaning of the holiday, and not so much the environment,” he says.