HAYWARD -- Silver and gold ornaments decorate Christmas trees, and shiny angel centerpieces sit on tables draped in red as four generations of Andrew Walker's family celebrate with him at the St. Regis Retirement and Memory Center.
Walker, a 73-year-old retired longshoreman, nods and smiles as he watches his family -- children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- who have gathered to be with him. "It is so nice and beautiful," he says softly.
Every year at the St. Regis, staff members organize an extravagant holiday banquet and open their doors to more than 300 guests. Administrator Shabbir Chinikamwala said he spares no expense for the more than 85 residents at St. Regis.
"This is their life," he said. "They have given up everything to come here and we make it as enjoyable as possible for them."
It is a scene repeated in retirement homes throughout the Bay Area during the holiday season. Senior home administrators like Chinikamwala and his staff of caregivers and nurses often put their own festivities on hold to focus on their job -- making sure their home's residents are not forgotten.
At the St. Regis party on Dec. 13, Chinikamwala's wife and teenage daughter joined him to help residents celebrate.
Beth Palad operates New Haven Care Homes in southern Alameda County, made up of several small facilities with up to six patients living in each homes.
"December is the busiest time of the year for me, and my own family knows that I spend time dedicated to my residents," she said.
While her budget does not allow for a lavish get-together, Palad buys personalized gifts for each one of her 80 or more patients and visits every home on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
"I want to see them happy for what they receive and make them feel they are part of my family," Palad said, "especially for those who do not have family or they are out of the country."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 2 million people over the age of 65 suffer from some type of depression. More than half of those accept or believe that it is "normal" to get depressed as a person gets older.
Mona Lalchandani is president of Exceptional Senior Placement Service in Oakland and has worked for 20 years as a consultant for families to find the right home for their elders. She knows that the holidays can present special challenges for older people who have taken up residence in a senior home.
"There are a lot of emotions that the holidays can bring out and it is especially tough if they are mourning the loss of a spouse, loss of independence, loss of mobility, or if they do not have family that can visit," Lalchandani said.
Many times their families members are ridden with guilt because they can no longer take care of their aging parents or, in the cases of older people who need a higher level of care, are unable to celebrate with them in the comfort of their private homes. According to the Pew Research Center,more than 47 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s are burdened with the responsibility of caring for both their aging parents and their own children.
Sometimes the joyful energy at senior home holiday parties can help with the transition.
"Once they know their parents are in good hands, the burden is lifted from their shoulders," Lalchandani said.
Loida Alcerrecaof San Franciscomakes visits every week to the St. Regis to see 94-year-old grandmother, Emily Reyell. She said Reyell, who loves dancing and Elvis Presley, had traveled the country in an RV with her husband before he died seven years ago.
Alcerreca said the St. Regis holiday party, which featured an Elvis impersonator, "helps her and (other residents) a lot."
At Alma Via Assisted Living in Union City, Administrator Lydia Hertzler said events like holiday parties demonstrate the love and respect necessary to help older people live well.
"Life is about love -- to have your hand held is engagement of the human spirit that I think is innate in all of us," she said.