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How to support family members with dementia at Christmas

Christmas can be a challenging and emotional time when you have a loved one with dementia, but there’s no reason why they can’t still be involved in the holiday despite their condition. It’s also important that you and the rest of your family can enjoy it with them, and continue to participate in your favourite Christmas traditions. As long as you tread carefully and with thorough consideration, you should be able to navigate this time of the year in a way that avoids stress and can have significant benefits for a relative who has dementia, as well as being enjoyable for the whole family.  

Whether it’s buying a gift, deciding what to do during the holiday period, or helping your loved one cope with a busy, sociable time of year, we’ve compiled all of the advice you need to have a happy Christmas.

How to support someone with dementia at Christmas

These strategies can help you to provide the best possible care and support for a family member with dementia this Christmas: 

Avoid overstimulation

It’s easy for someone with dementia to get overwhelmed, especially in a busy social situation such as a Christmas Day celebration. For their comfort, it’s vital to make sure they have access to a private space so that they can have some quiet resting time away from all of the noise and action if they need it. Keep activities fairly short and think about reducing loud noises if they are sensitive to this, for example by avoiding pulling Christmas crackers or setting off party poppers while they’re in the room. 

Put decorations up gradually

Sudden changes in scenery can be distressing and disorienting for people with dementia, so it’s best to avoid suddenly putting up all your decorations at once and significantly altering their surroundings overnight. Instead, start the decorating process a little earlier, and introduce one element at a time, giving your loved one a few days in between each step to allow them to build a little familiarity. For example, you might want to put up the Christmas tree one weekend, but then wait until the next weekend before you hang up other decorations such as garlands or fairy lights.  

Maintain routines and familiarity

Familiar traditions and habits are a central part of many people’s experiences of Christmas and have strong sentimental value, so it’s natural to want to maintain this even when a family member has dementia. These family traditions can benefit someone with dementia because they can bring back happy memories, even if they are less clear and harder to remember than in previous years. On the other hand, it’s good to avoid disrupting their daily habits and to ensure that they’re able to wake up, go to bed and eat their meals at the times they’re used to. 

Help the person with dementia get involved

Engaging a relative with dementia in activities, conversations and tasks at Christmas can be a great opportunity for them to feel more included and empowered. Ahead of time, chat to your other family members to make sure they know how best to approach the individual with dementia. Try to keep conversation mostly light and positive, rather than serious or complicated. Pick activities which they can participate in, for example choosing to watch a Christmas film together rather than playing a more complex board game like Monopoly.

Think about food

While for many people, all the delicious food eaten at Christmas time is a central aspect of the event, this can be challenging for someone with dementia who’s having trouble eating. Ensure their Christmas dinner includes foods which are softer and easier to eat, and don’t require as much chopping up or chewing, such as mashed potatoes and Christmas pudding. 

Take care of yourself

If you’re looking after someone with dementia this Christmas, you’ll also need plenty of breaks to allow you to decompress and continue to have a good holiday despite the challenges. Speaking to a professional – such as a counsellor, a therapist or a helpline call operator – can be an important part of taking care of yourself and helping yourself cope. 

Your anxiety and stress will be picked up on by those around you, including the person you’re caring for, and so by taking care of your own mental health, you’ll also contribute to creating a better atmosphere for them. In order to look after yourself properly, it’s important to take proper breaks from time to time, and short-term respite care at a residential care home can be a way to give yourself a rest away from care duties, with the peace of mind of knowing your relative is being looked after. Using this option in the run-up to Christmas, or shortly afterwards, can release some of the pressure and stress around this time of year. 

Christmas activities for people with dementia 

Finding activities which a relative with dementia can participate in and enjoy will allow them to feel more included and can help them recall favourite memories. These should be engaging enough for them to be absorbed in and not feel patronised by, but straightforward enough that they can take part without feeling embarrassed or risking getting hurt. This could include:

  • Singing Christmas songs and carols together, particularly old favourites which can bring back happy memories
  • Looking at photos from previous family Christmases, focusing on enjoying the pictures without putting too much pressure on your loved one to recall details
  • Decorating the house or the Christmas tree with baubles and tinsel
  • Helping with simple food preparation tasks such as wrapping sausages in bacon to make pigs in blankets

Choosing a Christmas gift for someone with dementia 

It can be hard to pick a gift for a loved one with dementia, especially when you feel that you no longer fully understand how they experience the world around them, or what items will bring them joy. To give you some ideas, here are some suggestions for gifts that those with dementia will be able to appreciate:

  • Puzzles: While complex board games or books may be harder for someone living with dementia to enjoy, especially for those with more advanced symptoms, a puzzle can be a relaxing, mindful leisure activity which they can engage with
  • Aromatherapy and scented products: Smell is one of the most emotive senses, so treat your loved one to a relaxing scented experience with an aromatherapy oil diffuser or a perfumed body lotion
  • Arts and crafts supplies: Depending on what stage your loved one’s dementia is at, they may enjoy expressing themselves through drawing or painting, or find satisfaction in crafts like knitting or origami, and supplies for these activities can make excellent gifts
  • Weighted blanket: People with dementia often experience higher levels of anxiety and distress. Weighted blankets can be grounding and soothing for people experiencing these symptoms.
  • Cosy clothes: Many elderly folk and people with dementia are very temperature sensitive and tend to feel the cold. In chilly December, some cosy socks, or a luxurious new scarf, can make a lovely Christmas present.

To better understand how a dementia care home can support the needs of those requiring care and to enquire about a care home within The Fremantle Trust contact us today.

We have dementia care homes located across the Buckinghamshire county. Learn more about care homes nearest to you:
Dementia care Aylesbury
Dementia care home Princes Risborough
Dementia care home Chalfont St Peter
Dementia Care home in Amersham
Dementia Care homes in Slough
Dementia care home Chesham
Dementia care home Stoke
Dementia care Burnham 
Dementia care High Wycombe
Dementia care Marlow