How to have a dementia-friendly Christmas
As the festive season approaches you may want to know how to have a dementia-friendly Christmas. It can be a magical time, but for people with dementia and their loved ones, it also brings challenges and stress. From decorations and lights to visitors and unfamiliar foods, people with dementia may find Christmas an unsettling and worrying time. I have compiled a useful guide outlining how to have a dementia-friendly Christmas.
Decorating the house is a fun part of getting into the festive spirit. However, for people with dementia, decorations can feel confusing and overwhelming. They often rely on familiar objects like cushions and ornaments to remind them where they are. These may help them understand which room they are in and reassures them they are in the right place and right home.
Suddenly bringing out Christmas decorations, trees and lights can cause confusion for people with dementia. They might think they are in the wrong place. In addition, people with dementia may not understand why there are decorations. Certain things, like Christmas trees and flashing lights, are likely to cause confusion and alarm if a person with dementia does not recognise them as decorations
Keep things simple.
To minimise disorientation and confusion, keep Christmas decorations simple and low-key. Avoid anything that may cause confusion or distress. Forget flashing Christmas tree lights and singing Santa. Party poppers are also best avoided.
It is also important to ensure any decorations you do use are safe. Swop real candles for battery ones and look out for any trip hazards. Did you know that Christmas plants such as poinsettia and mistletoe are poisonous? Best not to have them in your home.
Concern: Lots of visitors
For the lucky ones, Christmas means visits from friends and family. For people with dementia, these may pose a challenge. A constant stream of visitors can be overwhelming and confusing. Some people with dementia can feel guilty or frustrated at the fact they can’t remember names or recognise people. Also at Christmas, the “little people” can be very noisy and excited.
Solution: Pace or limit visitors
If your loved one is finding it hard to cope with increased visitors it’s a good idea to pace or limit them.
It’s helpful to explain who is visiting and when. It might be an idea to write visits on a calendar so they can be seen. Reminding your loved one that there will be visitors arriving soon will often go a long way towards helping them feel less anxious when the doorbell does go.
Try to stick to routines
The run-up to Christmas can mean a change in your loved one’s routine, especially if other people in the house have taken time off work. More people at home, later nights and a change to mealtimes can be confusing for someone with dementia. A regular routine provides familiarity, and any disruption in this routine may cause disorientation. Try to stick to as many items of your normal routine as possible such as meals and bedtime.
If TV programmes are something that your loved one enjoys the Christmas scheduling for festive shows may disrupt this. You can Ma find missed or rescheduled programmes on the BBC iplayer. One good thing is the film favourites will be back and there is familiarity and security with these.
Festive food, a change in diet
Christmas brings a change to most of our diets. Whilst we often love this, this might confuse people with dementia. If your loved one is able and wants to help prepare some festive food it’s good to let them. It helps with independence and self-esteem. If Christmas food is likely to cause your loved one problems, there is nothing wrong with them sticking to their normal diet.
Christmas can be a very challenging time for people with dementia and their carers. Caring for a loved one with dementia is demanding, and facing special occasions together can be distressing and overwhelming. You may remember past Christmases with a sense of grief and longing. Feelings of frustration can quickly give way to guilt. It is important to not only consider your relative’s wellbeing but also your own. Seeking support for yourself is an integral part of caring for someone with dementia.
It’s a good idea to not have too many presents at once or at all. Trying to get someone with dementia to understand the presents need to be unwrapped might be difficult. The gifts need to be lightly wrapped or put into a gift bag. Sellotape is a menace to many elderly people, let alone someone with dementia. Helping someone with dementia open their presents enforces the fact the gifts are for them and not someone else. This is another cause of anxiety and stress when someone with dementia believes the gifts under the tree are for other people and “ we must find who they belong to”.