Whilst many people look forward to the sparkle and magic of Christmas, for others it can be overwhelming. The lights, the songs, the decorations, the parties, the family gatherings and the financial pressure. For those living with dementia, or caring for those living with dementia, it can be even more difficult. In our latest blog, we share Alzheimer’s Society’s advice for making Christmas more inclusive, with tips provided by people who are affected by dementia.
Familiarity is key
When someone is living with dementia, sudden changes can be extremely disconcerting:
- Are you putting up decorations or moving furniture to fit in your Christmas tree? Don’t rush it. Gradually add decorations over a few days, gift presents in the week leading up to/after the day rather than all in one go and maintain an easy and recognisable exit route when moving furniture.
- Bear in mind any clubs or weekly events your loved ones attend which may not run over the holidays. This can cause a break in the weekly routine which can be distressing. Plan your own activities to help maintain a sense of consistency.
- When planning dinner, if your loved one is used to eating at certain times, build this into your planning and keep portion sizes familiar. Staying hydrated, even in winter, is also very important. Ease the pressure on yourself by having Christmas dinner in the evening, if midday is too early. Your day doesn’t have to adhere to everyone else’s expectations.
The joy and excitement of Christmas can be noisy and chaotic, depending on the ages of the people sharing your day. And trying to keep up with multiple conversations from lots of faces you no longer recognise can be exhausting.
Speak to people in advance about how you can work together to make the day as dementia-friendly as possible. Involve the younger generations with one-on-one time with their grandparents to show them their new favourite gift.
A safe, quiet space
Having lots of visitors – especially all in one go – can be a challenge at the best of times. For those living with dementia, trying to remember who people are and names can be difficult.
Create a safe space for your loved one to go for some peace and quiet when they need it (although others might benefit from this too!). Be mindful of the signs your loved one is feeling tired. They may not be able to tell you when they are finished for the day.
Despite the internal battle with dementia, people still want and need to feel involved and useful. Find jobs they can do – even with the help of younger members of the family. This can be as simple as laying out the table for Christmas dinner.
Treasure the memories
Whether this is your first Christmas since diagnosis, or tenth, the day can bring mixed emotions. Spending time with your loved ones at Christmas can highlight the changes in them from the previous year.
When they don’t remember certain things, tell them the story as if it is a new adventure: once, twice, three times if necessary. Bring out the old photos and take plenty of new ones. Play the Christmas songs and carols. Read the bad cracker jokes. These are precious moments for you to treasure.
Christmas is about you and your loved ones, give yourself permission to be flexible about how you choose to celebrate it. There are no rules about how Christmas should be, so tailor it to suit the changes within your family and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have the ‘perfect’ day. An over-cooked turkey or burnt potatoes is just another story to tell in the years to come.