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Supporting Someone with Dementia this Christmas

Christmas is typically a time for family, friends, good food and festivities, but for people who are affected by dementia, it can be a challenging time of year. Family members and carers who are supporting someone with dementia may find there are many more things to consider, on top of their already hectic Christmas preparations.

The importance of enjoying a relaxing Christmas with loved ones can’t be over-emphasised, since we all need a holiday to recharge our batteries. Charities who support people with dementia and their carers are offering some helpful tips to take the stress out of the festive season.

By supporting each other, spending a happy Christmas break together can be achieved, as there are various techniques to help a relative or friend who has dementia to join in the fun without anxiety.

Christmas with family

© Ocskay Bence / Adobe Stock


Prepare gradually

Suddenly transforming the home environment into a myriad of brightly coloured Christmas decorations can upset someone with dementia, who may not understand the rapid change. Put the decorations up gradually over a period of a few days, so that the whole environment doesn’t change overnight. This way, it won’t come as a big shock when the usual setting is different.

You could try putting up the tree first and then gradually add the other decorations over a period of say a week. You may find that a family member with dementia will remember and appreciate older decorations that have been brought out at Christmas for many years. Even if they don’t remember them, they may find them pretty and like them regardless.


Keep to a routine

It’s important not to leave a person with dementia feeling overwhelmed over Christmas. Although we all want to celebrate, try not to break completely from the usual routine. For example, having your Christmas meals at regular times and in familiar surroundings will help to reduce any confusion.

Suddenly having a massive sit-down meal at dinner time rather than lunch time, and in a different room, could cause distress, so try and keep it as simple as possible.


Getting involved

When preparing for Christmas, you shouldn’t shut out a person with dementia altogether, as you can get them involved in different ways, no matter how small. It can be something simple, such as hanging a few baubles on the tree or going Christmas shopping with you – although preferably not on Christmas Eve, when the shops are much busier, as this could cause anxiety.

For elderly people, writing their own Christmas cards where possible can be important. Try and help by providing cards and the recipients’ details, so that the elderly person has only a simple task to complete. Even if it’s just writing their name in a Christmas card, that you then address and post, it’s something to keep them involved.


Quiet space

If you’re having a large number of guests over for Christmas Day, this can be overwhelming for someone with dementia. It’s preferable if you ask for the understanding of friends and family in spreading their visits out over the festive period.

If it’s unavoidable that everyone is coming over on one day, make sure there’s one quiet room in your house where your loved one can relax in peace, in familiar surroundings, should the hustle and bustle become too much for them.


Remembering happy times

Find something that your older relative can enjoy, such as an activity that will bring back happy memories of times gone by. This could be watching a classic Christmas film together, playing some traditional Christmas music, watching the Queen’s Speech together, or creating a memory box for them, with old photos and other mementoes.

This type of activity can also be brought into the digital age by creating a photo album on a tablet or laptop, for example, adding names, locations and dates. Then you can put it on “shuffle”, so that an older family member can sit comfortably in their favourite chair and watch the memories, without having to navigate the mobile device themselves.


Food preparation

Be aware that an older relative with dementia may feel daunted if they are suddenly presented with a plate piled high with unfamiliar foods.

Don’t overload their plate if you’re serving up dinner. Give them their normal-size portion and make sure it contains some of their favourite foods. While other dinner guests may wish to try modern menus, such as different stuffing flavours, or salted caramel Christmas pudding, your older relative may prefer tried and trusted cuisine.

Although it can seem a little daunting preparing for Christmas with a loved one who has dementia, by taking extra care in accommodating their needs in your festive schedule, it can be a happy time for everyone.

It always pays to be flexible, so that if one particular element of your Christmas plan isn’t working and it appears to be causing anxiety, you have a Plan B up your sleeve.

Kinderkey provides safe sleeping solutions for people with dementia, who may be at risk of falling or climbing out of bed.

If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, please contact us for details of how we can help – home visits are available to assess the best options for suitable beds.

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