Tips on how to support relatives with dementia over the Christmas period
Making the Christmas cakes, puddings and mince pies is a great way of getting both our young and old involved – whether that is stirring or sharing their recipes. Decorating the cake is a safe and creative way for everyone to get involved. What can be better than getting everyone together and having fun over the arts and crafts table? Christmas cards are practical and easy to make. It takes little dexterity and is a perfect way to engage an elderly person in the Christmas preparations. Singing and music are particularly a good thing to participate in over Christmas. Language skills can sadly be affected as dementia progresses and often people who have communication difficulties can sing along to seasonal music or tap along to music or beat of a song. Decorating the Christmas tree is another great way to spend family time together. For many families, there are decorations that have special, sentimental meanings and can bring back a lot of memories. Retro baubles are always popular – you may wish to buy some that remind you of ones that your family have had in the past. Create a list of useful telephone numbers that include important out of hours GP/Hospital medical services, book repeat prescriptions or appointments and ensure your relative has packed their medication or mobility aids if they are going away. The run-up to Christmas can be stressful for anyone, but especially for carers, particularly if they have their own family to look after as well. Carers should try to make time for themselves and not feel guilty for doing so. There are a number of day care centres offering daytime respite services and providing expert care and support for people living with dementia on a daily basis. On Christmas morning, you can open your christmas stockings. Have a quiet place ready for your loved one/relative to go, as all the present opening, noisy toys for children (and adults!) and over-excited children can prove too much for someone whose senses have changed. Try to keep table settings as simple and straight forward as possible to limit confusion. Sometimes a person who has dementia may sadly misinterpret and confuse decorations as food. Mealtimes may need to be flexible if a sleep is needed. If special cutlery is required, ensure you have it available. Dish up Christmas Lunch for your loved one / partner as the impairments to their eyesight should they have dementia makes it hard to negotiate the serving dishes. Also try to use a plate colour that contrasts against the food. This makes it easier to see and avoids confusion and anxiety. Do not be offended if they do not eat a great deal – appetites can decline with age. In the early stages of dementia, people can still follow the rules of card and board games they have played before, so it could be time to get out some of the old family favourites. If their dementia is more advanced, new games are best avoided.