Enjoying the festive season with family and friends can be a magical experience. Typically a time for family, food and festivities, Christmas means many things to many people. For a person with dementia, however, they may find the usual celebrations a bit overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an enjoyable Christmas together.
Stick to routine
Especially if your loved one with dementia is staying in a different bed, keep as much to their daily routine as you can. Eating at regular times, bedtime routines and keeping day activities low key will help them to feel safe and secure.
Trust your instinct
If you’re worried a particular plan may leave your loved one feeling unsettled, change the plan to something less overwhelming or cancel it altogether.
If you have guests joining you for Christmas, let them know in advance about your loved one’s condition. That the person with dementia may keep repeating themselves (and not to point this out as this may distress them), or that they may not join in many conversations anymore, and that they themselves should speak slowly, using short and simple sentences and give the loved one time to respond.
Be sure to get the person with dementia involved in at least some of the decisions with their opinions, thoughts or ideas. Whether it’s something they want for their Christmas dinner, a choice of old Christmas film to watch, or to help wrap a present. But don’t be too disappointed if they show little interest in decorations, cards or presents, or are even unaware that it is Christmas. The important thing is that they feel included in some way.
Have a quiet space
Lots of people, activity and sound can be too much for some with dementia. Having a quiet space or room where they can retreat to and relax without loud noise can help keep them calm. Do encourage your loved one to take a nap if they seem tired.
Don’t do it all yourself
It’s too easy to fool yourself into thinking you have to do everything yourself and make it a perfect Christmas and New Year for everyone. How exhausting. By keeping things simple and letting those around you who are often willing and able to help – do their bit, whether it’s cleaning the house, setting the table, cooking the dinner or sitting quietly with the person with dementia, it will help take a bit of the pressure off of you. You may have to ask for help and give specific instructions but it will make for a calmer Christmas for all. Give everyone coming for the holidays a duty and things will go a lot smoother.
Let the person with dementia sit at the best lit part of the table, as they may have trouble seeing what is on their plate. Finger foods and snacks may be a better option for your loved one rather than a piled plate of Christmas dinner that can seem daunting to someone who has difficulties eating. If they don’t eat much at dinner but seem happy, it doesn’t matter, they can always have something else later when things are a bit calmer.
A tipple at Christmas is tradition for many, but too much alcohol for someone with dementia may cause them to become even more confused and put them at higher risk of falls or accidents. Alcohol may also affect their mood making them likely to become agitated and perhaps confused. Keep an eye on their fluid intake too (or ask someone else to), your loved one needs to eat and drink regularly to avoid a urinary tract infection.
Put on some old music that everyone can sing along to, a classic Christmas film that might make your loved one smile, pull out the family photo albums and take a trip down memory lane while making new ones.
After Christmas: Decorations
Take Christmas decorations down gradually. Someone with dementia may feel overwhelmed with a drastic change to their usual setting. Let them get used to the idea of change in their environment.
Most of all, be kind to yourself, be flexible, focus on the positives and keep a sense of perspective if certain things don’t quite go to plan.