Christmas is a great time to catch up with family and friends and is an occasion everyone wants to enjoy.
But for people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the break in routine and unfamiliar faces and surroundings that festive celebrations often bring may prove stressful. Noisy, large gatherings that are too bright, too crowded and over-long may leave someone with dementia agitated and unsettled, and other family members distressed as a result.
To help everyone enjoy the festive season we’ve come up with some simple suggestions to help your Christmas celebrations run smoothly.
1. Be realistic in your expectations
If you’re trying to juggle the needs of a loved one with dementia with the hopes and expectations of other family members, it can be tricky. You will probably need to make some adjustments to the way you normally do things at Christmas.
This doesn’t mean locking yourselves away, but if you have a large family you may need to scale things down to prevent the person with dementia becoming overwhelmed. Having several small scale visits from family and friends spread over an extended period may prove more enjoyable for instance than getting together with everyone in one go.
And before you agree to visit other people for extended periods, it’s important to consider how well the person will cope being away from their own home and regular routine.
2. Have a plan
Playing it by ear is unlikely to work well when you’re caring for someone with dementia. Spontaneous visits could well prove stressful so it’s a good idea to speak to relatives beforehand.
If you haven’t seen them for a while talk to them openly about how the dementia has progressed. If you’re upfront about the problems you’re facing, friends and relatives will be much more ready and prepared to make allowances.
3. Find ways to include the person with dementia
It’s easy in the Christmas rush just to get on with the preparations yourself, but try to include the person with dementia as much as you can. Focussing on what they can still do, rather than worrying about what they can’t will help, and even little things like signing their own name in Christmas cards, talking about what presents to buy, or deciding where to put Christmas decorations will help maintain their sense of involvement and purpose.
4. Take time to relax
It’s important to build in some time to relax - both for you and your loved one. The biggest mistake carers make is trying to do too much. Don’t be afraid to share the care. Friends and relatives may well be prepared to visit and sit with your loved one to give you a break, or if you’re worried they won’t cope with their condition, ask instead for a little practical help, such as wrapping presents or tidying the house, to free up some time for yourself.
Stress can often be a trigger for challenging behaviour in someone with dementia so it’s important to build in some relaxing time away from all the hustle and bustle. Going for a walk could help, as could putting on headphones and listening to some music, or even giving them the opportunity for a nap.
5. Enjoy the moment
Concentrate on making sure your loved one feels safe, secure and good in the here and now. Even if they don’t remember people and events the following day, they will probably remember they felt good, and this sense of wellbeing can be long lasting. So instead of stressing about what might happen, try to appreciate the present and treasure every moment.
Kingmount Residential Home is a friendly, welcoming care home in Paignton offering specialist dementia care for older people. To arrange a personal guided tour please call us on 01803 500719 and see how we could support you. The kettle's always on and we'd love to meet you.
Wishing you a very happy and relaxed Christmas.