Dementia is one of the most common conditions among older people in Australia. The most recent statistics indicate that dementia rates are rising, with almost 450,000 people living with dementia in Australia in 2019. For many of us, Christmas is a highlight, but if you suffer from dementia, you have relatives with dementia, or you’re caring for a parent with dementia at home, it’s easy to get lost in the frantic holiday rush and find the festive period difficult to navigate both physically and emotionally. With the big day hurtling towards us at speed, it’s wise to start thinking about Christmas and making plans. Here’s an informative guide to help you plan a dementia-friendly festive period and ensure everyone involved is well looked-after.
Tips to support loved ones with dementia at Christmas
Christmas is a time that most people look forward to, but it can often showcase and stir up extreme emotions. While for some people, it’s an incredibly happy time, for others, it can be a real struggle. The festive period is synonymous with spending time with loved ones, but times change, and often, when you have a parent or a grandparent with dementia, Christmas can be a reminder of how much life has changed. Many of us feel nostalgic over the holidays, and it can be difficult to think back and reflect on memories and compare the past to the present. Although Christmas can be a challenge, there are ways to get through the frenetic build-up and to maximize the chances of enjoying a stress-free, happy holiday. If you are caring for a person with dementia, here are some tips to support friends and family:
- Plan ahead
Christmas for many of us can be something of a military operation in terms of logistics. If you plan to visit people, or you’re hoping to have guests for dinner or a gathering, it’s crucial to plan ahead, and to try and cater for all eventualities. For people with dementia, going to unfamiliar places can be daunting and disorientating, so it’s a good idea to try and visit the place before Christmas and to talk to your loved one about the plans beforehand. Simple things like having a bag packed with everything they need, for example, medication and any familiar items they like to carry around with them, and making sure that somebody stays sober so that they can drive, can make a difference. It’s often difficult to predict how people with dementia will react to changes in setting and environment, and if there’s a designated driver on board, this provides an escape route if needed. Planning in advance is beneficial for everyone at Christmas, but it’s particularly important for dementia carers.
- Introduce Christmas slowly
Christmas seems to be coming earlier and earlier every year, with the arrival of gifts and decorations in the shops in October and festive adverts hitting TV screens in November. Many people don’t want to deck the halls and start playing seasonal songs weeks before Christmas, but it is a good idea to introduce Christmas gradually. Going from no decorations to a house packed to the rafters with trees and tinsel can be disorientating for those receiving dementia care. Rather than decorating in one fail swoop, start adding items over a period of time, steadily increasing the festive cheer and enabling your loved one to get used to the new look.
- Stick to a routine
At Christmas time, many of us like to embrace a new routine, which means that it’s fine to get up much later, to eat a main meal in the middle of the afternoon and to graze on chocolate for breakfast. For people with dementia, a sudden change in routine can be difficult to cope with, and this is why it’s best to try and keep the days over Christmas as ‘normal’ as possible. Try and aim for the same time as usual when it comes to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, and opt for activities that your family member or friend is used to. Keeping things simple and avoiding trying to cram too much into a short period of time can also be beneficial.
- Encourage everyone to get involved
Christmas should be a time when friends and family come together. Although the festive period might not be the same as it used to be when you were a child, there are many ways to get everyone involved at Christmas. Simple things like helping to hang a bauble on the tree, writing a Christmas card or stirring the cake mix can mean the world, and they might also bring back memories. It’s really useful to take traditions and try and find ways to carry them on without causing extra stress or hassle. If your mother wants to send out cards, for example, but they can’t manage to sit there for hours on end and go through a huge list, you could help them compose a message and sign their name and then copy and print an insert to go inside the cards.
- Communicate with other visitors beforehand
If you’re not familiar with dementia, and you don’t know anyone with dementia, it can be difficult to understand the effects of the condition. If you have friends visiting or family members are coming for dinner and they haven’t seen your loved one for a while, it’s advisable to speak to them in advance and give them some tips to help them communicate effectively on the day. People who haven’t come across dementia before may find it hard to understand the impact, and if you can offer some tips, this will help both them and your loved one to feel more relaxed and comfortable. Names can be a challenge at Christmas, especially as many of us see people we haven’t been in contact with for a long time. If you are bringing people into your home, or you plan to visit old friends or relatives you haven’t seen since last Christmas, make a concerted effort to remind your loved one about the name of the person by using their name when you greet them or ask questions, for example. People who have dementia often get flustered and embarrassed when they can’t remember names, so being there to provide cues is really helpful.
- Set aside a quiet area
Most of us are well aware that Christmas can be overwhelming. There’s a huge amount of hype in the run-up to the big day, there are people popping in and out throughout the day, the kids are high as kites and rooms are filled with boxes, toys and wrapping paper. It’s fun to get involved in all the craziness that Christmas throws our way, but it can get too much. This is why it’s beneficial to set aside a quiet space your friend or relative can retreat to and enjoy the peace and quiet and take a break.
- Remember old times
Many of us grow up with a set routine or specific things we do at Christmas, and we go through our adult lives remembering them and even passing them on to our own partners and children. If you have a favorite song you used to sing or a film you watched every Christmas without fail, use these positive memories to reminisce with your loved ones. Often, small things like a piece of music or a scene from a film can jog the memory and create positive reactions. When buying gifts, using memories is also a wonderful idea. Photographs, videos and memory boxes are great examples. Adding name labels and dates and places can be very helpful.
- Making mealtimes less stressful
A festive feast fit for a king or queen can be daunting for somebody with dementia, so if you’re in charge of plating up, try and make sure portions are manageable and the food is suitable. If you’re going to somebody else’s house for dinner, have a chat with them beforehand so that they know what kinds of foods are best.
- Be prepared for a change of plans
It’s so useful to plan ahead, but dementia can be very unpredictable and even the best-laid plans can fall by the wayside. Try and be flexible, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to organised the perfect Christmas.
- Get some fresh air
Being outside can help lift the spirits, reduce stress and break up the day. Even if you just go for a short stroll, it’s hugely beneficial to get out of the house and get some fresh air. Go for a walk with the whole family, or take some time out just you and your mum or dad to have a breather, chat and enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Help and support for dementia sufferers and their families
Any time of year can be incredibly challenging when you have dementia or someone you love has been diagnosed with dementia, but Christmas is often even more difficult. As Christmas approaches, it’s important to remember that there is help and support out there both for dementia sufferers and their families. At Dementia Caring, we provide specialist dementia services, offering dementia home care, as well as respite for carers. Christmas is a very hectic time for most, and if you need extra assistance, you should never be afraid to ask. This might mean getting family friends or siblings on board, or adjusting your loved one’s home care package slightly, for example.
Dementia is a condition that affects people in different ways, and this means that it can be tricky to manage. No two days are the same, and this is why a flexible home care service that covers everything from daily tasks such as washing and dressing to more intensive, specialist services is beneficial.
Looking after yourself when you are a carer at Christmas
Being a carer can be tough, and at Christmas, it can be particularly challenging. If you’re running around like a headless chicken trying to buy gifts, cater for a huge family and throw yourself into having as much fun as possible with the kids, you might be tight on time and exhausted before Christmas Day even comes around. Alternatively, if you’re on your own and you’re caring for a loved one with dementia at home, you might find Christmas a distressing time of year and it might bring back memories of happier times that you find difficult to cope with. Whatever your situation, it’s critical to look after yourself. Carers do an incredible job, but they’re often reluctant to ask for help, and they end up trying to do too much. At Dementia Caring, we’re here for you, as well as your loved one, offering round-the-clock dementia support in Australia. We can provide tailored services to help those with dementia, as well as respite and dementia carer support. If you need more time, or you simply need advice or somebody to talk to, we can help.
Christmas is a time of year that stirs up a lot of emotions. While many of us look forward to the festive season, happiness can often be tinged with sadness or feelings of anxiety or worry. If you have a parent, a sibling or a grandparent with dementia, Christmas can be a tough time. We tend to fill our schedules and give ourselves too much to do, and the emotional roller coaster can be draining. With Christmas just around the corner, it’s advisable to plan ahead and to figure out ways to get as much enjoyment out of the holidays as possible at the same time as minimizing stress and hassle. Keep things simple, stick to routines and try and involve your loved one and celebrate old traditions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help for yourself or your loved one. At Dementia Caring, we provide an array of in home dementia care services, as well as support for those who care for dementia patients at home.
If you need help, you’d like advice, or you’d like to find out more about expert dementia care in Australia, don’t hesitate to get in touch.