Dementia at Christmas: Tips and Advice
Christmas can be a stressful time for anyone. But for people living with dementia, the challenges – from disruptions to routine to overly noisy environments – can be particularly distressing.
Fortunately, there are several practical tips available for living with dementia at Christmas; ensuring that you and your loved one can enjoy the festive season to its fullest.
From maintaining a familiar routine to involving the person you care for in fun festive activities, there are numerous ways to lessen the impact of dementia at Christmas, meaning the person you care for can have an enjoyable day in the company of beloved friends and family.
Christmas and dementia: In preparation for the big day
It’s important to note that living with dementia at Christmas isn’t limited to the day itself, and several key steps can be taken before the big day that can help the person you care for feel happy, safe, and, perhaps most importantly, included in the festivities.
Put decorations up in stages
People living with dementia can struggle with sudden changes to their environment, finding it disorienting and potentially frightening, so it’s important to ease them into the festive season.
For example, you might wish to consider putting up Christmas decorations slowly – perhaps over the course of a few days – so as to minimise abrupt change and allow your loved one to gently familiarize themselves with the new setup.
Involve your loved one in planning
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But involving the person you care for in the planning stages can greatly reduce the impact of dementia at Christmas; lessening potential confusion caused by disruption to the normal routine.
Maintain a routine
This will, of course, be imperative on Christmas Day itself, but it’s equally important to ensure that your friend or relative keeps to their regular schedule – whatever that means for them – as the main thrust of the season approaches.
It isn’t possible to completely avoid disruptions to an everyday routine at Christmas, so maintaining a recognizable routine in the weeks leading up to the big day can be crucial to a person living with dementia’s comfort and stability.
Dementia and Christmas: Christmas Day
Often chaotic and unpredictable, Christmas Day can be challenging for people living with dementia as houses fill with (possibly unfamiliar) people, and with the festive spirit comes increased noise and disruption.
But it needn’t be too disruptive, and with a few small considerations – from monitoring noise to engaging in dementia-friendly activities – you can ensure your friend or relative has a truly wonderful Christmas.
Manage noise levels
Christmas Day is inherently noisy, with homes filled with music, chatter, and even sounds from children’s toys; all things that, in large doses, can be overwhelming for a person living with dementia.
As such, it’s important to monitor noise levels and to encourage your guests to consider the needs of the person you care for by doing likewise. Of course, as festivities unfold, this may become difficult, so you might also consider creating a quiet space – perhaps in another room – that your loved one can use to snatch a few moments of quiet, should the noise become too much.
Involve the person in Christmas tasks
Aside from more specific Christmas activities for people with dementia – such as making Christmas cards or watching classic films – it can be beneficial for a person living with dementia to be involved in domestic tasks on Christmas Day itself.
For example, if it’s possible for them to do so, getting your friend or relative involved with meal preparation – from making gravy to whisking eggs – can provide a huge boost to their self-esteem, as well as potentially serving as means by which to stimulate memory. Indeed, our olfactory sense (the sense of smell) has strong links to memory, and cooking smells rank highly on the list of memory-triggering odours.
Be mindful of food and drink
It can be tempting to overindulge at Christmas, and while it’s important not to be too restrictive, it can be wise to monitor the food and drink intake of the person you care for, considering mealtimes as much as the quantity of food.
People living with dementia mustn’t eat too late in the day, as this can greatly affect the quality of sleep they get, which, in turn, can worsen dementia symptoms. As such, it’s wise to consider setting mealtimes that accommodate the needs of your loved one, allowing them to be part of the festivities without any negative consequences.
Also, as harmless as it may seem, it’s vital to limit the amount of and alcohol that your friend or relative drinks; ideally abstaining altogether as alcohol, like caffeine, can enormously affect the quality of restful sleep a person gets.
Juggling dementia and Christmas can be challenging, but with a few simple considerations, the festive season can be magical for you and your loved one.
Respite care at Christmas
Given the demanding nature of Christmas – whether shopping, planning, or cooking – you may wish to consider some manner of respite care or temporary visiting care for the person you support; allowing you time to handle festive tasks, in the knowledge that the needs of your loved one are being met by someone fully-trained to support them in whatever way they require.