January is always an odd time of year. We start the new year with great intentions but by midway through the month many of us have already given up or cheated on our resolutions. 

One of the big problems is that we try to fix too many things at once, leading us to envisage lofty goals that are doomed to fail. One of the best ways to stick to a resolution is to create a much more realistic vision or aim (SMART goals, if you want to Google!). So many people try for a ‘dry January’, for example, whereas for me this is the month where I most look forward to a glass of wine in the evening – to help me through the cold, wet, miserable days where outdoor time is challenging (even for those of us who are in good health and able-bodied). I will never commit to a dry January! My goals usually involve eating more healthily but I don’t put too many rules and restrictions on myself as I know this will make an already difficult month impossible. 

This year more than ever, it’s important to be kind to yourself in your resolutions. We are in lockdown. We are living through a pandemic that is bringing challenges most of us have never even imagined. Many of us are stuck in that ‘sandwich’ of children learning at home and elderly parents or relatives needing help with shielding/isolating. If you are looking after someone with dementia their needs will always come first. But how to ensure we all make it through to March without coming completely unstuck? 

Firstly I think it’s important to get outside every day. Even if it’s wet or cold, a breath of fresh air can rejuvenate us. We know this, and yet it can be really hard to make ourselves go. But we should take a leaf from the Scandinavians’ book. As they say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Stock up on good waterproof boots and raincoats. If your older person is capable of coming with you, take them too. Even for a stroll round the block. Look for things to draw their attention to, especially things from the natural world. Look for signs of spring – bulbs poking through and birds flying with twigs in their beaks. When we are more connected with nature we automatically feel more at ease, even if we don’t realise it at first. 

Secondly, make sure there is music on in your house every day. Pick a genre you don’t usually listen to – mix things up. If your loved one has a go-to era, why not make a little kitchen disco with that music on? Music that everyone knows can be a great inter-generational bonding tool, and it is well documented how good music is for wellbeing, including those living with dementia. 

Thirdly, use the radio more. We all use screens way too much at the moment, and they can be a soulless and time-sucking experience. Radio has the opposite effect. The friendly chatter of a DJ can make you feel more connected and part of the world, particularly if you or your loved one is shielding and unable to get out to see that the world is still turning outside! 

Fourth, try to re-frame negative thoughts. It’s too easy to become overwhelmed and anxious with thoughts of what lies ahead. Instead, take a thought like ‘this is all too hard for me’ and change it to ‘this is a challenge for me but I can keep learning and keep going, one day at a time’. It might sound a little cheesy but it is a technique used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that, when repeated over time, helps to change mindsets. 

Stay safe and well, from all of us at Dementia Network.