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Christmas celebrations and dementia

Christmas and dementia

Christmas and other family celebrations can be an overwhelming time for someone living with dementia. A sudden influx of friends and family can cause individuals to feel stressed, agitated and confused. Active Minds outline their top tips for supporting your loved one through the Christmas period, ensuring you enjoy a magical festive time together.

Planning

This will help the day run as smoothly as possible, ensuring that both you and your loved ones enjoy the festivities without a hitch.

  • Create a schedule, ensure celebrations are planned for earlier in the day to avoid tiredness or agitation.
  • Speak to friends and family in advance about plans, and make sure everyone works together to ensure elderly members feel included and part of conversations.
  • It may be a good idea to familiarise extended family members with any changes they may expect to see in the person with dementia.
  • A person with dementia can find large groups intimidating so keep invitations to a minimum.
  • Familiarise your loved one with the guests in preparation for the event, talk about them and show pictures of everyone who will be coming.
  • Have a quiet room set up where they can go if things become a bit too much, with some activities that can help them relax.
  • Plan some simple family activities and games that are inclusive to all generations.

Eating and drinking

Food and drink are a big part of Christmas. It’s important to think about eating and dietary requirements for elderly relatives as older party members may have particular needs.

  • Those with dementia may struggle to eat for many of reasons, such as a lack of appetite. So it’s best to avoid overloading their plate with Christmas dinner, as this can be a daunting prospect.
  • Take action, such as reviewing the seating plan and not being over-generous with alcohol, to avoid arguments or accidents that can agitate a person with dementia.
  • Try where possible to serve food that is familiar to your loved one as this will help them feel comfortable and relaxed and may even spark memories and conversation.

Safety

  • Sometimes people with dementia experience problems with vision. To avoid confusion, place colour-contrasting rugs in front of doors or steps to make sure they are visible (dark coloured rugs may be mistaken for holes).
  • If the house is unfamiliar to your loved one, place labels on doors to help them move around easily.
  • If possible, limit access to places where injury could occur, such as kitchens or staircases.
  • Keep a list of emergency contacts nearby.
  • If your guest is staying the night, leave lights on in case your loved one gets confused if they get up during the night.

Take time for yourself

Hosts and caregivers often struggle trying to balance Christmas plans and looking after their loved ones, meaning it can be an incredibly stressful time of year, so you must make sure you take some time for yourself.

  • Pace yourself and set realistic goals so you don’t try to do too much.
  • Recruit another member of the family to be on hand to ensure that your loved one is ok and comfortable, so the job isn’t entirely your responsibility.
  • Think about having a respite care plan in place to begin shortly after the festivities have ended if you’re a carer, to give yourself a well-deserved break.
  • Be proud of yourself – Christmas can be a tough time for both a person with dementia and their carers and families.

Christmas from a distance

If you have an elderly relative or friend that’s not spending Christmas with you, regular phone calls can help them not feel isolated or lonely. Although this can be a very busy time of year, try and make time for a visit, even if it’s only brief, as this will be hugely beneficial for them.

Christmas gifts

For many, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the giving and receiving of gifts. Choosing gifts for people with dementia isn’t always easy, so we’ve put together a few ideas which make the perfect present.

  • A DVD of a classic film or TV series from their past may help to spark memories.
  • There are jigsaw puzzles available which are created especially for someone with dementia, including illustrations which can encourage reminiscence and conversation, making them perfect as a stimulating gift.
  • A memory book or photo album full of special times spent together will be something you can all enjoy. As a reminiscence gift, it’s available for your family member to pick up and look at any time they want.
  • A board game is a great gift. Active Minds have developed special dementia-friendly games such as Animal Bingo and a specially adapted version of Snakes and Ladders.
  • Colouring books are a relaxing activity to help a person unwind and focus, as well as giving a sense of satisfaction once the colouring is completed.

Activities are one of the most effective ways to keep people with dementia calm and content over the Christmas period. Active Minds have created a resource to provide advice and ideas to help carers and people living with dementia get through the winter months.

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Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

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