Season to taste

A holiday season is here. For those in the southern hemisphere like myself, the Christmas period marks not just that holiday but the conjoint start of the summer 'vacation' period (we don't call it that down here), which in northern climes is much more sensibly segregated to the other half of the year. But regardless of whether your Christmas may be white or sunburnt red, it is a time when many of us will be taking at least a few days away from the working environment. As I've been heading into this period, I started to think about the experience of people with disabilities in this holiday season, and particularly of those who are resident in rehabilitation services. We know that many people—like Dan—want to get home for Christmas and other holidays. It looks like Dan will, but many people won't be able to do this.

I set out therefore to see what the peer-reviewed literature could tell us on this topic. My attempts to find accumulated knowledge about people's experience of a holiday season spent in rehabilitation have been fairly unsuccessful, however. The only literature I could find on holiday-related environmental manipulations in health services was recent (highly quasi-) empirical evidence that indicated tinsel is harmful not just to pets but also to blood gas analyzers. The authors light-heartedly suggest Christmas decorations could be an impediment to patient care (or at least infrared touch screens, anyway). Yet we do know that small environmental differences can have important psychological implications. It was demonstrated in the 1970s that older adults given care of potted plants have a mortality advantage over their peers who have possession of a potted plant but aren't charged with its care—yes, we humans are less likely to die if a potted plant needs us. So tinsel would seem worth the risk. What else should we do beyond this, however, to make our rehabilitation services places that can be a positive place to spend the holidays? And what is the effect for clients when a highly valued holiday season fails to live up to previously cherished beliefs about the way it is 'supposed' to be?

No doubt all inpatient rehabilitation services make efforts towards a more festive environment during the holidays. I confess I have only a vague recall of the good efforts other staff made (probably mostly our nursing staff) when I worked as a Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Wolfson Neurorehabilitation Centre in London in the early naughties. To my shame I wasn't ever involved in festivities at the Wolfson on the holy day itself. My lack of anecdotes thus mirrors the paucity of published information on this topic—apparently, a complete absence? So it'd be good to hear some of your experiences. If you've got a heart warming, sobering, or enlightening story of the experience of neurodisability and the holiday season in rehabilitation services I'd like to hear it. Please email me if you're able to share not just with me but with others—being appropriately mindful of confidentiality. I'll distill what I can, and share thoughts back in an update in the next week or two to our community here. And as we reflect upon these issues, perhaps this can be the start to a deeper appreciation of how to provide more supportive holiday seasons in future years for any clients who have felt somewhat unseasonal in our services in the past.

Wishing you and yours a safe and peaceful holiday season.