Caring For Those With Dementia At Christmas: A Guide

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging on with no end in sight, the Christmas period is already shaping up to be very different this year for most of us. With some people shielding, and large gatherings out of the question due to social distancing issues, the likelihood is that Christmas will bring a new set of stress and worries with it this year.

But for those who will be celebrating the holidays with someone who lives with dementia, there’s a whole host of things to take into consideration besides COVID-19. Someone with dementia will feel comfortable in their familiar surroundings, even if their memory is failing - but a sudden increase in people at the dinner table, a christmas tree, presents, and decorations suddenly appearing could cause confusion and upset.

We’ve put together some of our top tips to ensure that your loved one who is living with dementia can enjoy the festive period with the rest of their family.

Take It Slow

If your loved one has dementia and wakes up one morning to find their whole home has been transformed into a sparkling, tinsley Christmas grotto, it could have the exact opposite effect to what you had hoped. Rather than invoking feelings of excitement and Christmas joy you could instead cause panic, confusion - maybe even fear - in your loved one.

People who live with dementia often don’t cope well with sudden big changes to their environment. Why not put the Christmas decorations up gradually over the course of a few days or weeks, discussing it as you go and maybe even asking them to pick out certain decorations or suggest where to put them. This will make the transition much easier for everyone concerned.

Use Music

Christmas carols and songs are an important part of Christmas, and for older people in particular the songs can be loaded with sentiment and nostalgia. Music, particularly songs from their youth, has been proven to stimulate the brain in dementia patients, and even those who struggle to communicate because of the disease have been known to hum or sing along to familiar songs.

Choose traditional Christmas songs, or songs from a bygone era that will be familiar to your loved one to help them feel settled and festive. It doesn’t have to be at full volume, and we would recommend having a quiet room to retire to if they want a break, but playing some familiar music could make all the difference when it comes to someone with dementia enjoying their Christmas. 


More about how music can help Click Here

Involve Your Loved One In The Decision Making

When it comes to Christmas, whether it’s just the two of you, or you have a larger COVID bubble, it’s important that your family member has a say in the preparations of your day - even if they don’t really understand what is happening or won’t remember later. It’s possible that any decisions they make won’t be consistent, but there’s no way of knowing which parts of your preparation they’ll remember, but it could be the very thing that helps them to cope with the day.

Encourage Relaxation

No one enjoys stress, but for someone with dementia those feelings can be unbearable and could trigger aggression or unreasonable behaviour. Avoiding arguments and too much noise is going to be key in keeping everything as stress-free as possible.

If you notice your loved one is becoming distressed or tense why not encourage them to take a nap or retire to a quiet room for a while.

The Quiet Room

Christmas can be an overwhelming time for the best of us - especially if your family includes over excited children as well as someone with dementia. It can be really handy to prepare a quiet space that is dedicated to being peaceful and tranquil. Keep the kids out! - this is a space where your loved one can take some time out and keep their stress levels under control during this busy time of year.

The Less The Better

Admittedly this year is going to be different in that we won’t have 20 people around our dinner tables, but even if you are a family of four and were planning on inviting the extra two from your bubble for Christmas day, maybe consider sticking to just those from the family home this year.

Extra people coming in and out can be confusing for someone with dementia - even if they are people they’ve known for many years.

If you simply have to have those extra couple of guests make sure that they know in advance how your loved one’s dementia has progressed. Also, be sure to introduce your guests to your loved one, even if they are people they know well, that way they don’t have the stress or embarrassment of not remembering someone’s name.

Keep Your Loved One Involved All Day

Don’t let them feel excluded! Involve your loved one with familiar tasks, let them play games with the children, join in with songs and conversations - it’s their Christmas too! Be guided by your loved ones wishes and behaviour, and have a plan in place for rest and quiet if you can see it’s getting too much.

Flexibility Is Key

Sticking to your usual Christmas routines and traditions might not be possible as your family member’s dementia progresses, so it’s important to have contingency plans in place should your original intentions not go as planned or need to be changed last minute.

Enjoy Yourself!

Yes, Christmas is a difficult and stressful time - and yes even more so if you are caring for someone who has dementia - but there is no shame in admitting that it’s difficult, or that you need help. There is always respite care available if you feel like you need a break in the run up to Christmas so that you can run any last minute errands and practise a little self-care before the big day.

Get friends and family to chip in where possible (difficult at the moment, we know, but where you can), and stay positive. Christmas surrounded by our loved ones is what counts - and so many won’t get the chance this year….so cherish this time, and make as many wonderful Christmas memories as possible.

If you want to know more about respite care over the festive period, or want more information on caring for a loved one with dementia, please get in touch with us at Care In Kent.

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