Making the most of Easter when you care for someone with dementia | Care UK

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Making the most of Easter when you care for someone with dementia

April 13 2017

Easter is a special time for many families; the chance to spend four days together is a rare treat for many and, for those caring for a loved one with dementia, it offers the opportunity for some fun activities that also increase health and wellbeing.

Andrew Mussett, who helps to train Care UK’s care home chefs, comments: “As dementia develops, it can affect the senses, making it especially important for people living with the condition to have activities that use sights and sounds as well as smells and tastes to evoke happy memories as well as providing fun for all the family.”

Making a simnel cake together has the benefit of being tasty as well as tapping into memories and helping to maintain important life skills: “It is important, especially when dementia has become more advanced, to adapt activities to suit individual skills and abilities, but there is a lot people can do to enjoy the experience, such as weighing, mixing and decorating the cake. Rolling the marzipan for the eggs is a very tactile experience and also helps to keep hands mobile.”

It is hard to think of Easter and not think of chocolate, especially if you have given it up for Lent: “Chocolate is great; it’s easy to digest, releases endorphins and our residents are delighted they can give the eggs they have decorated to loved ones.”

People think it is hard to work with chocolate because of techniques chefs use such as tempering to get that professional shiny finish, but there is a lot you can do that is very easy, such as chocolate nests.

Andrew’s recipe

225g/8oz plain chocolate, broken into pieces

2 tbsps golden syrup

50g/2oz butter

75g/3oz scrunched up shredded wheat

2 bags of mini chocolate eggs

  1. Pop paper cases into a 12-hole fairy cake tin. Don’t worry if you don’t have a tin; you can put the cases on a flat baking tin, they will just take a little more care to fill and shape as nests.
  2. Melt the chocolate, golden syrup and butter in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and stir the mixture until smooth.
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat and gently stir in the cornflakes until all of the shredded wheat is coated in the chocolate.
  4. Divide the mixture between the paper cases and press three chocolate eggs into the centre of each nest. Chill in the fridge for an hour and then keep in an airtight container.

Andrew added: “Taste diminishes as we age and you can try boosting the flavour with a touch of cinnamon. The shredded wheat gives the nest a more realistic look but you can use cornflakes or rice crispies.”

Decorating Easter eggs is one of the most popular spring activities in Care UK homes. Dementia expert Debra Fox said: “Decorating eggs can be a fun way to spend time and start conversations. We use undecorated chocolate eggs and lots of coloured icing tubes and edible decorative treats to support residents to decorate and personalise them. The tubes are great as they need minimum dexterity but create lots of visual impact.”

Creating Easter bonnets are also a tried and tested way of creating family fun. Debra added: “We collect ribbons, scarves, hats, and artificial birds and flowers throughout the year to ensure residents have a free rein with their creativity.”

Easter egg hunts ensure that young and old can have fun together. If you have young children, older members of the family can have fun hiding the eggs for them to find. Alternatively, many charities, church groups or the National Trust hold organised hunts that also give the health benefits of being out in the country.

If the weather is good, getting out and about has positive effects for all the family but particularly for people with dementia. Debra advises: “When you are walking, remember to talk about walks you have had together in the past; you may be surprised at the memories that come back. For people who grew up in the countryside, farm open days and lambing events are a way of engaging memories and getting fresh air.”

If it is raining and chilly,  blowing and painting eggs is a family favourite that older people may have done in their childhood and possibly with their own families and so make a great conversation starter. For those trying it for the first time, poke a hole at each end of the egg, using a toothpick or paperclip, then use a drinking straw to blow out the egg’s contents.

Papier-mâché eggs can be fun and make a surprising gift. Partially blow up a balloon and layer it with strips of newspaper with a 50:50 mix of water and flour mixed thoroughly with a pinch of salt.  Make several layers and when dry, decorate. Care UK’s activities coordinators have found that cutting the eggs afterwards and filling them with a layer of tissue paper and chocolates makes a very nice Easter gift.

Finally, a little preparation can avoid stress. Make a list of useful telephone numbers such as out-of-hours medical services, make sure you have enough medication to last the holiday and order any repeat prescriptions needed very soon. Also don’t forget to make sure your relative has packed any medication or medical support aids if they are going to be away.

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