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Christmas visits when your loved one has dementia

December 24th 2019

When spending precious time over the Christmas period with relatives living with dementia, little and often could be the way to happiness for all according to a Care UK expert.

Suzanne Mumford, who advises leading residential care provider Care UK on supporting people living with dementia, says high expectations and an over-whelming sense of duty can end up making the whole family sad and stressed at Christmas.

She says: “People feel they have to visit their relative, whether in their home or in their care home, for the whole of Christmas Day. Alternatively, they may bring their loved one home, away from a care home environment where they feel safe and comfortable.

“Christmas is a stressful time: people with dementia pick up on that and it can make them agitated. They can also become bored and distracted if the conversation begins to flag and everyone hates awkward silences.”

But there is good news as Suzanne says there are simple tips to make everyone smile this holiday season.

She says: “Preparation is everything. Before Christmas drop in to your relative for short and purposeful activities. For example, take a pen and paper and talk to them about who they need to buy presents for, and what they might like to buy. Online shopping can be a useful way of shopping together. If they can go shopping, arrange a date to take them shopping try to organise a time when shops are likely to be quieter, where possible where there are a variety of gifts so that the trip can be limited. Garden centres are often good for this as they often have cafés and easy access facilities. Don’t expect to get everything done it’s about the experience rather than the outcome.

“Help them put together a round-robin of family news. Then, at another visit, help them sign their cards and take a walk to the post box together. These simple things help people feel engaged with Christmas. It gives them a sense of achievement and it sets the scene for the coming weeks, reminding them of who everyone is and their connection to each of them. Dementia can play tricks with people’s time frames, so it also helps them to count down to the big day.”

Suzanne says that people should also manage their expectations and guilt on Christmas Day. She said: “I would urge people to think whether taking their loved one from their care home is always the right thing to do. That’s not to say don’t, but to recognise that Christmas at home can often be noisy and stressful, shorter visits often work well, remembering that what is good for one person is not necessarily good for another, everyone is uniquely different”.

“Care UK runs 120 homes, and modern care homes have lots of planned activities. Residents feel safe, they are with their friends and they feel confident in their environment. If they feel tired or not so well there are experts on hand and they can go for some quiet time in their room whenever they fancy.

“Contrast that with being in a home they may not know anymore with lots of noise, movement and excited children. They may struggle to hear the conversations or understand what is being said, depending on where they are in their dementia journey and how often they see their relatives.

“They can become tired, confused and frustrated and what was meant to be the ‘perfect visit’ becomes an uphill struggle for all.”

Instead Suzanne suggests that, on the big day, you visit your loved one for a visit to chat, exchange presents, and talk about the day ahead. She then suggests following-up with a phone call, so that your loved one knows that they are very much in your thoughts and they can share news from the day.

If you aren’t sure whether your loved one would prefer to visit your home or stay at their care home try to talk to them and their care team about what the best option would be.

Suzanne says: “The Christmas season gives us an excellent opportunity to make a New Year’s Resolution to keep-up our little-and-often interaction with our relatives. Just remember to have an activity with you that you know will engage them.

Suzanne’s suggestions include:

  • Taking in an article they may find interesting
  • Looking at cookery books and talking about recipes
  • Sharing a cuppa and a seasonal mince pie or cake
  • Doing a crossword or sudoku puzzle
  • Knitting and sewing
  • Going through the sports pages together
  • Watching a film, sporting event or old TV programme that you may find on You Tube
  • Taking a bunch of flowers that they can arrange
  • Creating a play list and
  • Scrapbooking.

Suzanne says: “These easy to organise steps will enrich the lives of you and your loved, helping them to maintain crucial life skills and helping you to build up precious memories.”

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