Christmas can take a lot of planning to make it a success, but for families where a loved one is living with dementia, a combination of careful preparation and a relaxed attitude is important to ensure the day runs as smoothly as possible.
Dementia champion Angela Hodge, who works with Care UK’s new care homes across Suffolk, offers advice on how to make the most of Christmas for someone living with dementia and how to avoid the stresses and pressure points that may take the shine off the special day.
Angela’s top tips:
1. Plan – make sure your loved one can meet healthcare appointments and has sufficient medication to see them comfortably through the holiday period. If you’re going away with your loved one, double check you have packed their medication and make a note of key phone numbers so you can gain support if needed, such as their GP or day club manager.
2. Get out the photo album – sit down together with your loved one and find photos of the relatives you’ll be seeing over the holidays. Sharing festive memories can also help you plan a Christmas that feels familiar to them.
3. Help your loved one to feel useful – people feel valued and worthwhile when they can contribute to the running of the family, whether it’s wrapping presents together or baking mince pies.
4. Familiar TV and music – people with dementia often, in their minds, feel they are a different age to their chronological age. Recording TV Christmas specials and classic films from yesteryear, or putting together a playlist of classic Christmas songs, can be reassuring and help to trigger memories.
5. Gifts can be good for wellbeing – a perfume they wore, an MP3 player full of favourite songs or an adult colouring book are all fun, relaxing and are helpful for reminiscence and maintaining life skills.
6. Plan the dinner table carefully – senses are affected by dementia and depth perception and hand-eye coordination so try having plates with contrasting colours to the table cloth and use foods of different colours, such as peas, red cabbage and carrots, so that they can see the difference. Also consider dishing-up dinner rather than having serving dishes on the table.
7. Create a comfortable space where they can go if things get a bit too much – people living with dementia can become anxious around lots of noise and activities as their senses cannot differentiate one activity from another. Create a warm and cosy bolt-hole where they can go, but keep the door open so they don’t feel excluded.
Lastly, Angela reminds families across the county to have fun and enjoy the day.
Angela says: “Christmas is a time to come together and create new family memories. Sometimes expectations can be set too high, so remember to go with the flow and stay in the moment. Relax and enjoy the special day!”