As we look ahead to the festive period, if you’re having family round for Christmas and one of your loved ones is living with dementia, you may well have found yourself thinking about what you can do to make the occasion as comfortable for them as possible.
Here at Sage House, we have put together a guide to how you can create a dementia friendly Christmas.
1. Planning and preparation for a dementia friendly Christmas
Despite the best of intentions, Christmas can be a stressful time, even more so for people living with dementia. It can cause disorientation because of the close proximity to friends and family, especially when this is not a normal occurrence in day-to-day life.
Try and keep mealtimes and other daily events as close to the person’s routine as possible. Think about sharing time with family and friends spread out over a number of days during the festive period and in smaller groups.
If you are planning to invite friends and family, please tell them what to expect, as, if the person with dementia has not seen them for a while, there may not be immediate recognition. Rather than repeatedly telling the person who the visitors are and where they fit into their family/social circle, just ask your family and friends to smile and greet them warmly, allowing the person with dementia to take their time to feel comfortable in their company.
2. Find ways to decorate together
Try and resist the temptation to start decorating your home too early, this can cause confusion for the person with dementia and lead them to ask repetitively when Christmas is or indeed whether it has already happened.
When you are decorating, it would be good for the person with dementia to choose what goes where and help dress the tree. Rather than the massive task of doing all the Christmas decorations in one day, it would be better to introduce them gradually and perhaps reduce the amount of festive décor. People with dementia can sometimes struggle with big changes to their environment and this can trigger anxiety.
Try to keep Christmas decorations waist high and avoid dangling decorations from the ceiling. When daylight changes to darkness, these can cast shadows on the ceiling which can cause anxiety for the person with dementia.
3. Create a calm space
Sensory overload for a person with dementia can create worry and anxiety; this can be caused at Christmas by high levels of noise from music/people talking/excited children, especially when it’s all mixed in together. Whilst it’s a joy to hear laughter and fun, it can be overwhelming, so, if you have the space, please find a quiet area/room that the person with dementia can retreat to if they need a break from all the festivities.
4. Use open and inclusive communication
People visiting, who have not seen a family member with dementia for a while, can sometimes feel nervous about talking to the person. It’s important to remember that effective communication can start great conversations. The best tip would be to avoid saying: ‘Do you remember me?’ or ‘Do you remember when we did….?’
Talk directly with the person and not over their head and try not to start a conversation as you walk into the room. Wait until you are seated and directly facing the person with dementia, this is so that they can read your face and get a feeling that it is a happy face and a happy time.
It’s OK to reminisce about Christmases past, but, again, try not to include the words ‘do you remember when…’. If the person with dementia feels relaxed and doesn’t feel they need to contribute to the conversation, they will often listen and this can trigger memories of their own to share.
Take time, don’t rush chats and try not to hold conversations in large groups – again, all of these can lead a person living with dementia to become anxious.
Playing low level music from older times can also trigger memories; if the person with dementia repeats a story, please respond as if you have heard this story for the first time. It helps build back confidence to engage and become more involved in the festivities.
5. Think about food and drink
We all enjoy treats and our favorite tipple at Christmas time, but please be aware that if the person with dementia is taking prescribed medication, too much rich food and alcohol can cause digestive issues and an upset stomach. There are also some medications which should never be mixed with alcohol, so it’s important to be mindful of this.
It might help to substitute some of the alcohol for alcohol free drinks. Please check in your local supermarket, the choice of alcohol-free wines and spirits is much more extensive than a few years ago….and the taste is better.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the simple act of being together with friends and family can be just as joyous without the louder bigger festive plans. If you are a carer for a loved one who is living with dementia, you will know better than anyone what will make their Christmas a happy time. If this means that your dementia friendly Christmas should be a calm occasion, then never be afraid to make sure that it happens.
If you need any help or support, then our Wayfinders are always available to talk. Either give us a call, on 01243 888691, email us at email@example.com, or pop in to see us at Sage House in Tangmere for a warm cup of tea and a friendly, listening ear.
On behalf of all the team at Sage House, we would like to wish you all a very happy, dementia friendly Christmas – however you choose to spend it.