Are you entertaining a guest with mobility issues during the holidays?
Injury Prevention, Safety
You’ve planned your holiday feast.
The house shimmers and sparkles with decorations.
All that remains are the last-minute shopping, final preparations, and your guests’ arrival.
You look over your guest list one more time. It’s then you realize two of your guests might need some extra help this year.
Grandpa and Aunt Sandy aren't as spry as they were when you hosted the last holiday get-together.
Your expectations of a Hallmark-inspired family dinner begin to unravel as you wonder how they will be able to move around your house.
But, don’t despair.
A few simple changes can make all the difference.
Entertain guests who have mobility challenges.
When you entertain, you want each guest to feel comfortable and welcomed. This atmosphere helps people relax as they gather to share stories and make memories.
But even at family events, many people feel uncomfortable telling others about their unique needs. They don’t want to cause more work for anyone.
That’s why we’ve compiled this list.
It will help you feel confident when asking questions and hosting guests who arrive with walkers, wheelchairs or canes.
- Ask how you can make things easier. Just like you ask about food sensitivities and preferences, ask about physical comfort. If you know Grandpa started using a walker, ask how you can make him more comfortable. Be aware that you may have to initiate the conversation and make a few suggestions to get him talking.
- Does he need soft padding on his chair?
- Does he prefer a firmer seat?
- Would a chair with armrests work better for him during dinner?
- If a guest has mobility issues, ask what accommodations he or she needs to take part in the activities. For instance, if your dad would enjoy watching the football game but can’t sit on the couch, can you move a recliner from the den into the living room? Can you borrow a recliner from a friend or rent one for the week? With a little forethought, you can find creative and workable solutions.
- Share the schedule. Some holiday celebrations last for several hours; others can last for days. Depending on your traditions, the festivities could include a meal, family talks, games and a movie or two. Whether you entertain six adults or dozens of out-of-town family members, it’s helpful to create and share a tentative plan.
- Create a quiet area. Anyone can experience sensory overload when surrounded by a large group of people. Add a few rambunctious toddlers to the mix, and the decibel level grows exponentially louder. Older adults (and younger parents) appreciate a quiet area to regroup and refresh. It also gives people a place to hold quiet conversations.
- Put yourself in the other person’s position. Start at the curb and imagine entering your home with a cane or wheelchair.
- Are the sidewalks and walkways clean and clear? Use sand and salt if there are slippery areas. Have a towel handy to clean off the wheels of mobility assistant devices and other surfaces once the person gets inside.
- Are the walkways wide enough (approximately 36 inches in width with a five-foot turning radius) to accommodate a walker, cane or wheelchair?
- Does the entrance to your home pose a challenge or risk of injury for someone unsteady on their feet? Is there an alternate way to enter your home that would be more comfortable for your guest? If not, can you rent or borrow a portable ramp?
- Can you move furniture around to create a better traffic flow?
- Are there knick-knacks or other items that can be bumped or knocked off shelves or tables? If so, moving them could save your guests untold embarrassment and protect your cherished items.
- Do the rugs create a tripping hazard? Tape the edges down with duct tape.
- Do your wires or cords need to be taped to the floor to avoid trips and falls?
- Create a joint-friendly seating area. Look at the height of your couches and chairs. Are they soft and deep? People with sore hips and knees often find it hard to stand after sitting on a low sofa or chair.
Have blankets available in the seating area to provide an extra layer warmth. People who suffer from poor circulation often feel chilled.
- Plan to keep your pets away from your guests. Your cat or dog may be well-behaved. But, pets can also knock people off balance or get tangled underfoot. When you have a house full of company, keeping your cat or dog in the back room or in a crate will make your guests – and your pet – feel more at ease.
- Consider borrowing or buying a safety frame or grab bar for your toilet. This inexpensive addition ($35 to $50 at most big box department stores) ensures your guests’ safety and independence for their most personal needs. Though they may not say anything, they will feel incredibly grateful.
- Keep your entertaining areas brightly lit. Dim lights, crackling fires and soft music create a romantic ambiance, but it’s probably not the best choice for people experiencing mobility issues. People who use walkers or canes need to see clearly to avoid falls.
If you are entertaining someone in a wheelchair, you can make them feel welcome by rearranging your furniture to accommodate the chair and following a few simple etiquette rules.
- Create seating arrangements for the wheelchair. Consider adding sturdy blocks under the table legs to raise the table height. Clear an area in the living room for the chair to park comfortably.
- If your guest arrives with an attendant, address each person as an individual. Talk directly to the person in the wheelchair about his or her health, comfort, needs and other personal issues.
- Talk to people at their physical level. Imagine looking up for 15 or 20 minutes while talking with a taller person. After a while, the conversation becomes a real pain in the neck. Face-to-face discussions on the same level are ususally more comfortable for everyone.
- Ask if your guest would like help before rushing to his or her aid. Wanting to help proves your heart is in the right place, but often a person who uses a wheelchair prefers to do as much as possible independently. Always ask before assisting.
- Before your event, ask your guest about any help he or she needs moving from room to room. Getting the details before your gathering may help your guest avoid unwanted attention.
Other tips to keep in mind.
- Remember, joint pain and mobility issues do not make people hard-of-hearing. Many times, people raise their voices when talking to someone who uses a wheelchair. It’s a phenomenon that happens quite often; though it’s not always clear.
- Always show respect. Don’t touch a person’s wheelchair, cane or walker without permission. Mobility devices are incredibly personal articles, like your wallet or purse.
- Remind children they should not play with anyone’s mobility device.
- Assign a trusted family member to check-in with your guests. Make sure they feel comfortable, welcomed and involved. Break away from your food preparation and other hosting duties to say, “Hi,” and make sure everything is okay. But avoid being a helicopter host or hostess.
With a little-advanced planning, your holiday party can be a successful and memorable event for everyone. Your caring attitude will make all your guests feel welcome.
If you have tips that would be helpful for others, please share them on Bone & Joint's Facebook page.
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