The Christmas Sensory Pack

The following blog post was written by Ellen, a community member of Grandpal back when we were able to facilitate visits for older people in nursing homes. This article was written in 2019.

Hi, my name is Ellen and I am a Grandpal at Elm Hall Nursing Home. I’ve now completed 8 visits with Patrick and our interactions have become a bit easier as we have gotten to know each other better. He is such a lovely man and has a heart of gold, he doesn’t like to offend and he has a great sense of humour which I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve tried to be inventive with my visits as Patrick’s visual impairment has added extra challenges. But I am realistic that different Grandpals will face varying obstacles such as dementia and physical deficits. So, I guess what I’m saying is that every Pal has their difficulties, that we, as Grandpals have got to face, and try to overcome as best we can. Perhaps what I share here might help others who are dealing with our older generation with sight loss or impairment?

He has always been lying on his bed when I have arrived and it’s from there that we have chatted. I was delighted that he was sitting on a chair when I visited this week. To me, I felt we were more equals and that he wasn’t like a hospital patient.

Our visits have taken on a bit of a routine really. At first, we talk about how he is feeling so I can gauge what he is able for. Then I do some kind of preplanned activity if I have one. This week I had prepared a Christmas sensory pack of items that I thought might evoke memories for him. I didn’t tell him what each item was. He had to guess by feeling, smelling and even tasting them. I included tinsel, a spring from a real Christmas tree, cloves, Christmas cake, marzipan, an orange decorated with cloves and even a drop of whiskey!

Christmas Sensory Gifts

When we were doing this I put Christmas music from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra on my iPad. He’s a great man for music and attempts whistling along when I put it on.

I enjoyed watching Patrick trying to guess what each item was and we had a chat about them and his experiences of Christmas. He particularly enjoyed the drop of whiskey. I had checked beforehand that he was allowed a tiny drink. He remarked cheekily that he’d be singing for the evening after it!

Every week we do a few crossword clues, I sometimes prompt him what the first letter is so that he feels good about succeeding in finding the solution.

We also look up some weird and wonderful facts on the iPad. That’s our time to learn something new together each week. Last week I found something on three species that can laugh. I asked Patrick what he thought they were. In case you’re interested they are humans, rats and chimpanzees. Patrick gleefully then led me that they’d forgotten a fourth …...the hyena! He was delighted to outwit Google on that one.

In my time at the nursing home, I’ve met one or two other residents who I now drop in on briefly, or for a more prolonged visit if Patrick isn’t feeling up to a long visit. One of these is a lady who is a hundred years old and as sharp as a tack. She’s a tonic and always delighted to share her history with me.

In case you’re thinking that being a Grandpal requires a lot of effort, it’s up to you and what you can offer. I have teaching experience which may have given me a certain skill set to help me along. However, others have life experiences of all types that they can bring to the table as a Grandpal.

If you’re interested in being a Grandpal, I would say go for it. There are so many lonely people in the world that could benefit from more of us trying a little to be their Pal.

We hope this lovely article from Ellen has given you some nice ideas for activities you can try out with an older loved one.


Be there for an older loved one, from anywhere.