Celebrating Christmas with loved ones is one of life’s greatest joys, but it can also be an extremely stressful and lonely time for people affected by dementia, as well as their family and carers.
According to Alzheimer’s Society, there are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to one million by 2021. With this is mind, tens of thousands of families will be preparing for a Christmas with someone affected by the condition, and many will be living alone.
Between parties and noisy family get-togethers, the festive period can be an overwhelming experience, but there are a few simple tweaks you can make so that those living with dementia can feel included.
We asked Alzheimer’s Society to share advice for creating a dementia-friendly Christmas this year, so everyone can join in on the fun. Here’s what they had to say…
1. Keep it simple
People with dementia can become unsettled in unfamiliar environments, so keep things simple. Plan the day ahead, stick to familiar routines and be aware of the triggers that may cause confusion or agitation.
Having lots of people in your home at once can become overwhelming to someone living with dementia. Excited guests, loud music and multiple conversations can be confusing, and may cause anxiety. Try creating a ‘quiet room’ in your home where someone with dementia can retreat if they are finding things a bit much.
Above all at Christmas, think about what the person with dementia is feeling. Be prepared to adapt and be flexible if needs be, even if that means some of your usual ‘rituals’ get tweaked.
2. Remember everyone needs to feel valued
Everyone needs to feel valued and this doesn’t change when someone has dementia. Think about how someone with dementia can continue to contribute at Christmas time and find a way to help them do this.
Hanging a bauble on the tree, writing Christmas cards together, setting the table or helping to prepare food are all small actions that can help a person with dementia be included and give them a sense of independence.
Arts and crafts, like making paper chains together with children in the family, are both fun and easy, and may encourage someone with dementia to recall activities from their own childhood.
3. Slowly and gradually decorate
Decorations are a big part of Christmas, but can also be overwhelming for people living with dementia if introduced all at once. It can be confusing and distressing if furniture is moved around so that things are not where a person expects them. Rather than change things all at once, put up decorations gradually.
4. Involve everyone in Christmas shopping
With a bit of planning, Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be too stressful. Many families recommended creating a shortlist of gifts with pictures from online shops and asking someone with dementia to choose what they want to purchase their loved ones from this. Other ideas included shopping in the morning at garden centres. They usually have festive decorations but are quieter than other shops and often have cafes to relax in.
5. Embrace Christmas carols
Music is incredibly beneficial to people living with dementia, and Christmas carols are no exception. For people living with dementia, singing can trigger some wonderful memories, help them communicate, improve their mood and leave them feeling good. Music can reach parts of the brain in ways that other forms of communication cannot, and it’s a great way for people with dementia to share their emotions.
When attending carol services, why not call to see if you can reserve some seats so you don’t have to get there early and wait in the cold? You can even ask if the lyrics or hymn sheets could be printed in a large font. After all, singing carols is a great way of bringing the family together and get into the Christmas spirit.
To find out more about how an Encore care home can help a loved one with dementia or for free downloadable resources, please visit encorecarehomes.co.uk/our-care-types/dementia-and-alzheimers-care/