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How your Easter celebrations can help loved ones with dementia

April 18 2019

Easter is a special time for families – four days together to get out and about and enjoy spring. But how can people make the most of the holiday to support loved ones living with dementia?

Suzanne Mumford, Care UK’s dementia expert has plenty of advice for families that makes use of experience gained in our homes. She said: “Our teams love Easter: it is a special time, as many of the traditional activities can trigger memories and reminiscences which support wellbeing, especially in those living with dementia. And we make a point of not forgetting the importance of this religious festival for those of faith who wish to celebrate with a visit to church.”

Many of the activities that dementia experts plan for care home residents work just as well in a family setting where people might be caring for a loved one with dementia.

Suzanne says the most popular Easter activities among residents in Care UK’s 120 homes are arts and crafts or cooking-based. “As we all know, taste and smell are powerful memory triggers. The combination of remembering cooking certain dishes and the wonderfully tactile nature of many of the activities makes it ideal, especially for those whose dementia has begun to affect their life skills.”

Chocolate bird nests are extremely popular with residents and their young visitors. These treats have the advantage of being easy to make and very tasty.  Puffed rice, rice crispies or shredded wheat, mixed with melted chocolate and topped with egg sweets, creates an authentic birds-nest look. 

Simnel or apostle cakes and hot cross buns are traditional Easter fare and many older people will not only have enjoyed eating them with their families but they may also have made them. Suzanne said: “There are many recipes available but, as I travel around our homes, I find it fascinating to talk to residents about particular family recipes and regional variations in popular recipes.”

“Simnel cakes can also provide an activity for residents as, although they may no longer be able to use an oven, they can help with stirring the mixture and we can sit together rolling the 11 eggs needed to go on the marzipan top.”

As well as the fun of making sweet treats, the activity can offer a way of prompting long forgotten memories in loved ones with dementia – especially as smells are well known to trigger recollections.

Easter eggs are not only wonderful to eat but decorating them can also be a fun way to spend time and start conversations. Care UK lifestyle leads use undecorated chocolate eggs and lots of coloured icing tubes with edible decorative treats to support residents to decorate and personalise them. The tubes are great as they need minimum dexterity but have lots of visual impact.

Suzanne said: “Chocolate provides a sweet treat that every generation can enjoy, and offers opportunities for giving and receiving.

“As our homes encourage intergenerational activities many are busy inviting families with small children into our homes to join an Easter egg hunt, this provides all the fun of watching and helping the children to find and collect many Easter treasures. “

For those who like being creative there are opportunities to make Easter cards, decorate blown or boiled eggs and dressing up old hats to make fun Easter bonnets. For those who prefer to be outside, the garden gives older relative a chance to feel useful and to share their experience and knowledge with the younger members of the family. 

The colourful spring flower bulbs planted in the winter are now in full bloom along with the cherry blossom, making a gentle stroll in the garden a pleasant and interesting chance for a breath of fresh air and a chat. 

Suzanne said: “Walks in the park are also a good idea. There is a great deal of research that shows that exposure to changing seasons is very beneficial to people with dementia, as it gives them a sense of time and place as well as giving them fresh air and exercise. You can even combine it with the fun of an Easter egg hunt.”

Suzanne also suggests trips out to farms or working museums. She explained: “As well as the beauty of the spring flowers and blossom and the cute lambs and chicks, life on the farm will bring back memories. Many older people grew up with animals and many people now in their 80s were evacuated during the war, so a trip to see a working farm or country museum will aid reminiscence.

Suzanne says that the most important thing is a little planning to save a lot of stress. She said: “If you are taking loved ones away, or they are visiting you, make a list of useful telephone numbers such as out-of-hours medical services; book repeat prescriptions or appointments, and make sure your relative has packed medication or medical support aids. That way you can all relax and enjoy time together.”

For more advice on planning trips out with a loved one, check out the free ‘Good to Go’ booklet available via the Care UK website at http://www.careuk.com/care-homes/good-to-go/guide

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