Celebrating Christmas with dementia
Christmas is a time to relax and enjoy the festivities of the season with those we hold near and dear. For people living with dementia, however, this special time of year can be quite difficult, disconnecting and even overwhelming at times.
Home carers, friends and family of loved ones with dementia will know that the disease can be unpredictable. During special events like Christmas, a person’s dementia may become harder to manage: decorations, lots of visitors, more noise and changes to routines can all combine to make individuals with dementia feel disorientated, agitated and stressed.
For many families, the person with dementia may have taken charge of Christmas celebrations in the past. Now that they’re no longer capable of doing what they once did, individuals can feel disconnected or that they lack that sense of purpose. We want to change this scenario so that families and friends can continue to enjoy Christmas together, even as someone’s dementia progresses.
Ambiance Care works to empower people with dementia and ensure they can continue living fulfilled, connected lives. At the same time, we understand the challenges faced by caregivers – especially at this time of year. We’ve put together some key pointers to follow during the festive season to ensure that with a bit of forward planning and preparation, the Christmas celebrations can be enjoyed by people with dementia as much as everybody else.
Keep a routine
If your loved one has always celebrated Christmas at home, keeping to this tradition can help them feel more relaxed and comfortable than they might venturing somewhere else – especially if other surroundings will be unfamiliar to them.
As much as is practical, try to keep to the usual routine of waking, dressing and eating. Familiar routines help the person know what to expect each day. Changes to the daily routine can be confusing and disorientating for someone with dementia.
Welcoming guests and getting together with family and friends spreads Christmas cheer but crowded spaces and lots of faces can be overwhelming for someone with dementia, who might experience sensory overload.
Ask guests to stagger their visits over the Christmas season, which will minimise disruption for the person with dementia, and keep a quite space for your loved one where they can relax in peaceful surroundings if the noise and bustle becomes too much. Check in on them regularly to gauge how they’re coping.
Help the person feel involved by enabling them to contribute to responsibilities they may once have taken charge of. If your loved one was formerly the cook at Christmas, help them retain that sense of identity and purpose with simple tasks like peeling, stirring, or making gravy or batter.
Maybe you have some regular traditions that the person has always been involved in, like setting up the crib and moving the wise men closer each day, baking gingerbread or wrapping gifts. Making sure they continue to be engaged in these activities for as long as they are able promotes self-worth and mental wellbeing over the Christmas period.
Plan for practicalities
Planning for Christmas involves a long list of practicalities and if you’re caring for someone with dementia, there will be a few extra things to bear in mind, like arranging easy access for the person to be close to a loo and to a quiet space, should they need some respite.
Also consider what they’re able to eat and how much – a plate piled high with enticing food can have quite a daunting effect. Limiting alcohol and sweet foods is another consideration – too much booze or too many sweet treats can contribute to a person feeling disorientated or becoming agitated.
Sharing fun times together is an essential element of the festive celebrations for many of us but for people with advancing dementia, busy, noisy parties are often best replaced with something simpler and not overly stimulating.
Playing Christmas music and singing carols together or watching a classic Christmas film can be great alternatives to crowded, noisy events for helping loved ones get into the Christmas spirit without feeling overwhelmed or unsettled.
On behalf of the whole team at Ambiance Care, we wish you a very merry Christmas with those you hold dear. May this special time be an opportunity to unwind, relax and connect with the people who mean the most to you. We look forward to connecting with you again in the new year!