Supporting a loved one with dementia through the festive season can be a challenging time. The festive season always brings with it the pressure to create a ‘perfect’ environment, whatever kind of family arrangements we have, but for families affected by dementia the obstacles are far more profound. We naturally want to include our loved ones in the festivities, but a change in routine and environment can be incredibly difficult.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you and your family survive the season in tact. Let us know if they help you!
- If your loved one is living with you, try to introduce the Christmas decorations gradually, rather than in one big swathe, so that personal surroundings are not suddenly looking different. Avoid too many flashing lights or novelty decor that moves a lot or makes noise.
- Ask visitors to spread out over the season, rather than all coming on one day. Alert them in advance to any changes in your loved one’s behaviour or mood. Get them on board and well briefed on how to handle any awkward moments.
- Create a quiet, ‘safe’ space where your loved one can retreat if things become overwhelming. Make sure it’s a familiar space that they know well.
- Be flexible. Don’t cling to Christmas traditions rigidly; expect that things are going to change over the coming years because of the impact of dementia. Being prepared helps to soften the blow if things don’t work out. One online commentator noted how her mother came down the stairs dressed and packed, ready to leave, early on Boxing Day morning – and that it took a gargantuan effort to persuade her to stay one more day!
- Try to be inclusive. Those with dementia can enjoy simple tasks such as hanging baubles on the tree or opening cards, to make them feel part of proceedings.
- Think about ways to jog their memory. Can you fill an iPad or photo album with pictures of Christmas past? This may help to create a sense of familiarity and recognition. Or you could put on a much loved film that they enjoy at this time of year – Wonderful Life or Wizard of Oz are always good ones.
- Although it’s de rigueur to eat a lot at Christmas, a full plate can be daunting for someone who has difficulties eating, as many people with dementia do. If you’re doing the serving up, try not to overload your loved one’s plate.
- If you are bringing someone out of a home to spend time with you, consider having a practice run first to see how it would work. That way you can anticipate problems and come up with solutions.
- Focus on the abilities of the individual, not the dementia. If they don’t remember it’s Christmas don’t keep reminding them all the time, as it can cause anxiety.
- Look after you. Christmas can be lonely if you are struggling. Make time for yourself and if you need to talk and no one is around, use a service such as our forums to connect with people and find sympathetic ears.