For those of you working in a care home or caring for a loved one with dementia, Christmas can be a tricky time. Sometimes rather confusing or sometimes incredibly nostalgic for those with dementia, it’s important to keep things as simple and gentle as you can, while taking a quiet moment to talk to a resident or loved one about their own Christmas childhood – the traditions, the presents, the music, the weather, the smells, the food. All these things are easy talking points to help you reach out to someone and make a connection.
There are some fantastic resources out there to help with managing Christmas. The Alzheimer’s Society has some basic and simple guidelines for anyone hosting a person with dementia this season:
Plan Ahead: If the house is unfamiliar to your guest, putting labels on doors could help, for example, the bathroom, the kitchen.
Think About Safety: Make sure you leave lights on and doors opens so the person with dementia is less likely to get confused if they’re up at night. Remind people to close outside doors securely if needed.
Food and Mealtimes: Don’t overload your guests plate. Although many people eat a lot at Christmas, a full plate can be quite daunting for someone who has difficulties eating. The person with dementia may feel self-conscious at a large dinner table, so avoid making them feel centre of attention. Drinking excessively can cause arguments and accidents. Ensure drinking stays within sensible limits.
Emotional Needs: Think of some activities the person may enjoy doing in quieter moments. Do you have any old photos you could look at together? Try to involve people in your own activities, such as walking or cooking and cleaning.
Religion: Think about their usual or past religious attitudes. Would they like to go to church or listen to hymns? It might be enjoyable for the person to sing carols – it’s good to do something jointly with other people but singing also stimulates both mind and body.
Noise: If the house becomes very busy, designate a ‘quiet room’ and agree not to watch television or listen to music in there.
Remember Your Needs! Congratulate yourself for coping, and for being there for someone who needs you. Try to pace yourself and set realistic goals and remember to take time for yourself.
While Care Home, Northampton, has also published some wise words:
Involve Everyone: There are many ways to include people living with dementia at Christmas – from something as simple as hanging a bauble on the tree to Christmas shopping. This is important.
Slowly Does It: Introduce the Christmas environment slowly. Think about putting up decorations gradually over a few days so it doesn’t come as a big change to the person’s usual setting.
Bring Back Old Memories: Whether it’s an old song they used to enjoy or a classic Christmas film – find something fun to do. Making a family photo album or memory box could be a nice way to spend time together.
Don’t Overdo It: Someone with dementia may feel overwhelmed by lots of noise and unfamiliar people around, so try and keep visitors to a few at a time. Schedule periods of rest throughout the day or have a quiet room they can retreat to incase things become too much.
It’s Good To Talk: Christmas can be a very stressful time, so don’t bottle it up. Alzheimer’s Society’s Talking Point forum is a place to ask advice, join in discussions and feel supported by others living with dementia. Or call the Alzheimer’s Society helpline on 0300 222 1122.
Musical Events: Try to include people with dementia when attending carol services, as singing carols is a great joint activity and can bring back lovely memories.
Accommodate: If you’re organising a party or event, have a quiet room set aside and make sure facilities are clearly labelled. Knowing where to go will really help someone with dementia feel more confident.
Be Patient: It’s easy to get caught up in all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, but if someone seems confused or is taking a bit longer to do something, take a breath and be patient.
These are simple ways you can not only make the home environment a safe and secure environment for someone with dementia, but also ensure loved ones feel included without being overwhelmed.
Whatever you are doing for Christmas this year, I hope it is a happy one, and that you can spend some quality time sharing memories and happy moments with those you love.
All best wishes for the festive season!
Chris Harding, and the whole team at The Daily Sparkle.