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Advice on celebrating New Year when a family member, neighbour or friend has dementia

December 31 2018


Dementia experts at Care UK are advising families to re-visit the past this New Year, to benefit loved ones living with dementia – and to think twice about incorporating noisy fireworks into midnight celebrations.

Regional traditions and refreshments around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day can spark memories and create conversations that reveal much about our loved ones’ pasts.

Suzanne Mumford, Care UK’s dementia expert explained: “There have always been New Year’s Eve celebrations. It is a time of great hope and joy as well as of reflection. Lifestyle coordinators in our homes have spent a great deal of time talking to residents about their memories of festivals, including what they used to do on 31st December when they were young.

“By understanding what special events mean to them, we can recreate some of the joy of special holidays like New Year.”

There are many traditions including first footing, where the first visitors to the house bring luck for the year. All over the UK there are different first footing traditions. First-footers usually bring gifts, including perhaps a coin, bread, salt, coal, or a drink, all representing prosperity and plenty for the year ahead. Some areas say the first footer should have the darkest hair and other say the lightest, while in some place height dictates the first person who should come through the door.

Suzanne said: “Champagne has become the go-to drink for New Year's Eve, but your older relatives may have seen in the New Year with more traditional British drinks including wassail - a spiced cider punch, or in Scotland a hot pint – a fortifying combination of beer, nutmeg, sugar, eggs and whisky, which must be excellent at keeping out the cold as people move from party to party.

Suzanne suggests people should “Chat with your loved one,  sharing family traditions and recipes for a special drink or a special dish that was served during New Year festivities and incorporate it into your own festivities.”

But while New Year revels can be fun, they have potential to cause distress to someone living with dementia.

Suzanne explains: “Sometimes noise, and lots of people moving about, can prove too much for people living with dementia, but that does not mean they have to miss out on the fun. Make a room available where they can go with a family member or on their own if the celebrations become too much. Make sure it is warm, has tempting food and drink available and entertainment that they enjoy, such as music, an audio book or a DVD of a favourite programme.”

Since the millennium, fireworks seem to have played an increasingly large and noisy part in New Year’s Eve celebrations. Suzanne reminds people to be careful: “Like parties, fireworks might be enjoyed by the person living with dementia or they might find them distressing. 

“Try talking your loved one before the evening. Talking to them about fireworks and reassuring them that there is no need to be worried, may help. You might suggest that you watch them together, in a nice warm, comfy seat - not too close to the action. 

“They may not like fireworks at all.  For anyone who lived through the blitz or who has seen active military service, the noises and flashes may trigger unwanted memories. Be sensitive to any sign of reluctance or distress and suggest your loved one moves to the comfortable room you have already planned and have the curtains closed in advance.”

Above all,  from everyone at Care UK, enjoy your New Years Eve and we wish you a happy and healthy 2019.

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