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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Holiday season offers unique therapy opportunities

December 09, 2020

During the holiday season, many families celebrate with their favorite Christmas traditions. For some, it’s decorating the tree with special ornaments. For others, it’s making cookies with grandma.

Therapists at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals understand the importance of incorporating traditions as patients work to regain independence following a life-changing injury or illness. Not only does this boost patient spirits, it also offers fun ways to practice skills during therapy.

“The nice thing about using Christmas for our therapy session is that it helps people to fill those roles as mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, all those things they would normally do around this time,” said Nicole M. Brown, an inpatient occupational therapist at Madonna’s Omaha Campus. “When you do a task that has meaning and purpose behind it, it brings about not just enjoyment of the activity, but also a lot more neuro-reeducation than with exercises.”

Neuromuscular reeducation is a technique used to restore normal movement to the body. Occupational therapists, like Brown, empower patients to remaster activities of everyday life.

Those daily activities also allow for improvement of different motor skills during therapy.

 “Any time we are in the kitchen, we are working on dynamic standing balance, being able to reach into cupboards, and visually scan for the items that we need,” Brown said. “We might also be working on bilateral integration of stirring the cookie dough while using the other hand to stabilize.”

Patients work on spatial relations using cookie cutters, fine motor skills while decorating their cookies and even strength.

In addition to strengthening the body, Brown said reading and following a recipe also helps improve cognition.

“We might even try to cut the recipe in half or double it to try and challenge the patient a little bit,” she said.

The benefits of incorporating Christmas traditions in therapy go beyond physical.

“Having that sense of reward and being able to say, ‘I made this,’ that kind of thing goes along with it,” Brown said. “It can be really enjoyable just to see them come to life and smile, and they recall memories of when they made cookies with grandma or grandma made them with grandkids. It’s also very rewarding for us to see them fulfill those roles once again.”

Oftentimes, Brown said, patients forget they’re doing therapy. They feel like they’re just doing a fun activity to celebrate Christmas.

Madonna’s therapists go above and beyond to help patients recreate their holiday traditions.

 “They might say, ‘We always made gingerbread cookies,’ so, either making the recipe to fit that or finding the right cookie cutters and then being able to use those appropriately is important to us,” Brown said.

From measuring ingredients to decorating, every aspect of making Christmas cookies fosters relearning everyday life skills. More than that, it offers a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to spread joy throughout Madonna for the holiday season.

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