It is often easy to think that Christmas is all about children and whilst it is delightful to watch how excited they get, it is always worth sparing a thought for our more elderly relatives, especially if they are living with dementia. Here are the Alzheimer’s Society’s top tips this Christmas:
While for most people, the festive season can be the highlight of the year – getting together with friends and family, eating to your hearts content, glamming up for parties – for people affected by dementia, it can be the loneliest time of year. Dementia doesn’t stop at Christmas and it may even be a time of the year that people with the condition dread the most.
This is because, of course, dementia doesn’t stop at Christmas. It is as much a part of a person’s daily challenge at Christmas as it is at any time of the year, and in actual fact the festive season can make living with dementia even more of a challenge, for a number of key reasons.
People often tell us about how important routine can be as they learn to adjust to their condition. With memory loss a very common and problematic dementia symptom, keeping to a timetable whereby getting up and dressed, meals, medication taking and activities all have their allotted time can be really important for people, helping to reduce the confusion they may feel by change. But such careful routine can be challenged by Christmas, what with friends visiting, trips to visit people elsewhere, cooking a traditional Christmas dinner taking longer than a typical meal and handing out gifts being a common activity of the day.
People with dementia also tell us about the impact that a dementia diagnosis can have on their relationships with the people around them, including family members and close friends. These changes can be painfully apparent at Christmas time; a time that was previously full of activity can become quieter as visits from loves ones rapidly decline. People with dementia often feel very isolated at Christmas, cut off not only from people who had been dear and close to them but also to past Christmases that felt so different and become impossible to re-create.
Bill Reed, 67 and from Ulverston, Cumbria, is the main carer for his wife, Alyson, who lives with dementia. Bill says that not only they have lost friends since Alyson’s diagnosis, they have also found that the people around his wife started to treat her as though she were a child because of the impact the condition has had on her, which causes a huge amount of upset for Alyson. Christmas can be particularly tough.
Bill says: “Like many other people affected by dementia, Christmas can be one of the most stressful and isolating times of the year. With all the presents to buy, food to prepare and decorations to put up it can be stressful enough – but for people affected by dementia and feeling confused, it can be a nightmare.”
“We used to love Christmas just like everyone else, really get into the swing of things and have fun and relax. We would go to parties and see lots of friends. Now it’s a much quieter affair and we celebrate it just the two of us. It feels that that’s the only way we can manage it now.”
Alzheimer’s Society is the leading dementia research and support charity, supporting the 850,000 people living with dementia today and the one million that will have it by 2021. We must stop people affected by dementia feeling isolated and alone. By donating £3 you can help us fund our vital services, from our National Dementia Helpline to our Dementia Support Workers.
To help people affected by dementia cope with the festive season, we have worked with people with dementia to create the following tips:
- Put your decorations up early and slowly
Introduce Christmas decorations gradually, over the course of a few days or even a week, so that it doesn’t come as a big change to the person’s usual setting
- Spread out family visits
A large number of guests can be noisy and overwhelming, so ask family and friends to spread out their visits over the festive period
- Create a quiet room
If things do get busy, designate one room in your house a ‘quiet room’ where your loved one can relax without loud noise. You could also schedule periods of rest throughout the day to ensure that things don’t get too much for them
- Keep routine as familiar as possible
Meals at the same time and in familiar surroundings can help your loved one relax.
- Be mindful of food
Although people tend to indulge more with food over the festive season, a full plate can be quite daunting for someone who has difficulties with eating, so try not to overload your loved one’s plate.
- Play some familiar Christmas music or reminisce over old photos
We’ve found that music and photos the person relates to can help them to relax – and can also add a nice to touch to your festivities!
- It’s good to talk
Christmas can be a very stressful time, so don’t bottle it up. Alzheimer’s Society’s Talking Point forum is a place to ask advice, join in discussions and feel supported by others living with dementia.
- Musical events
We know that singing and listening to music can help people with dementia communicate, improve their mood and leave them feeling good about themselves. Many people with dementia are still able to enjoy music and sing long after they have started to lose their language abilities. Why not try one of Alzheimer’s Society’s magical evenings of Carols by Candlelight? Go to http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/carolsbycandlelight to find your local Carol event.
- Christmas shopping
With a bit of planning, Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be too stressful. Shop in the morning when it’s quieter and you can take your time. A number of major retailers now have employees who are Dementia Friends in stores, including Argos, Barclays, Homebase, Lloyds Bank and M&S. So look for the badge and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The festive season doesn’t have to be the loneliest time of the year for people affected by dementia. To learn more about ways in which you can help and should you wish to make a donation visit The Alzheimer’s Society.