Coping with dementia at Christmas

Planning ahead will help ensure that any elderly relatives with dementia will also have a day to enjoy. Christmas Day is here and you ready for all your guests to arrive. However, how do you manage the day, if one of your guests, or even somebody you share your home with, is living with dementia? Dementia alters people's perceptions. So begin to prepare the person with dementia in advance by talking about who will be there, and who those people are to them – such as nephew, grandson, or family friend. Photographs are very useful for this as they will help them to recognise their faces. Photos can also be helpful because people who are living with dementia might be living in a different decade to you. It is common for people with dementia to believe they are at a younger point in their lives. If that is the case, then use older photos to explain who people are – and ensure you don't get upset if your relative gets names wrong. For example, If your mum actually calls you 'mum', do not get embarrassed by it and also do not try and correct her. As your mum is now at the point where you are her mum's age, or she sees something in you that reminds her of her mum. Help her with her food and with opening her christmas presents – as she will find it reassuring and calming.

Young children seem to take it all with greater ease. However, teenagers might find it upsetting. Christmas Eve is the time that you start the family traditions. If you prepare your christmas dinner vegetables on Christmas Eve night, then try and encourage your loved one to help out and be involved in the preparations. This may prove helpful as it can help start conversations about previous Christmases. Reminiscence is vital so talking about their childhood Christmases as well as yours can prove a lovely journey for all concerned. Music is a great way to connect with someone. Even if they cannot sing, they can enjoy tapping along to the rhythm of the song. And maybe even join in, so perhaps try a carol service or sing along CD. Christmas mornings can sometimes be fast and uncontrolled, especially if there are young children in the house looking for Father Christmas. Therefore, set aside a quiet and comfortable place for your relative to find peace and quiet away from all the hurly-burly. Avoid confusion and anxiety, and offer your relative a cup of tea away from the hurly-burly and if they want it, sit with them and have a good chat. The centrepiece of Christmas is the Christmas Dinner. However, dementia can take away depth perception and narrow the field of vision, so keep things fairly clear and straight forward. Share out the Christmas Crackers when you are going to pull them, limit the amount of crockery and cutlery on the dinner table and use a tablecloth that contrasts with the plates. White-on-white blends in and the person with dementia may not know where the plate ends and the table cloth begins. Try not to crowd the plate. Appetites are small and lots of food adds to confusion. Keep the meat in one section of the plate, the carbs in another and the vegetables separate. So that the plate is clear and straight forward. Our tastebuds age with time and older people often develop a sweet, sour or savoury tooth to compensate. Try adding lemon or lime for that extra zing, use plenty of fresh herbs and try adding a teaspoon of honey to the water you cook the carrots in. The most important thing is that everyone indulges in their favourite treats throughout the day. Finally, just because someone is living with dementia doesn't mean they can't join in the fun and indulgence with the rest of the family.

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