Dementia Care at Christmas
Caring for your relative or friend with dementia can be a challenging time for everyone at Christmas. The change in routine, new environment, noise, increased stimulation and things generally becoming a bit more hectic can combine to cause confusion and affect behaviour for those with dementia.
At Re:Cognition Health we are passionate about raising awareness of dementia and pioneering new treatments and techniques to support individuals living with cognitive impairment. Our team of “Brain and Mind Experts” have compiled a guide for managing Christmas with dementia to help happiness and good cheer resound throughout the festive period:
Consider their wishes – Consider what Christmas means to your relative or friend, with dementia. If they are religious, going to church could be a good idea if this is something they have done, previously. Think about how they would choose to spend their Christmas before their diagnosis and if you can, do it with them.
Mind the detail – Don’t be consumed by detail or get caught up in minor tasks that are essential. ‘Festive’ tasks like baking mince pies don’t need to be top of the agenda when you’re busy caring for someone. Don’t put yourself under pressure to conform to traditions that are just going to make your life even more frantic. Your company and quality time is more important (many shops do great mince pies and festive food!!)
Involve them – If it’s possible, involve your friend or relative in domestic tasks like folding napkins or assisting with meal preparation. Not only does it help boost their confidence and self-esteem, but it also means you can spend quality time together, working as a team.
Enlist support – make sure that family and loved ones know that they need to do their bit and ensure that everyone has their own responsibilities and tasks so that you aren’t carrying all of the pressure on your own. For instance, if you are picking the person up from their home, designate a driver to do this while you prepare the Christmas dinner and someone else in the family does the housework.
Consider location carefully – If the person with dementia lives with you, it’s going to be easier for them to stick to their normal routine. If they normally live alone or in a care home and you want to be with them, they may prefer to be in their own environment with you visiting them, rather than coming to you and being in a strange place that they may not recognise.
Plan ahead if they do stay with you – If you choose to have the person stay with you, put signs on doors so that they can identify rooms e.g. their bedroom, bathroom, cloakroom, kitchen, but also accept that you may still need to show them where the bathroom is. They may be able to read perfectly well, but still unable to process the information. Signage may work, but don’t rely on it solely and keep an eye on their movements to avoid any distress.
Use a nightlight – A person with dementia may become restless in the evening and may wake several times throughout the night. Having a small night-light plugged in so that they can find their way to the bathroom, without getting lost or bumping into things, can be a huge help.
Stay sober – If the person with dementia comes to stay with you, they may change their mind about staying overnight and may want to go home, at the end of the evening. Make sure someone in the family can be the designated driver.
Monitor the liquid – Watch the liquid intake carefully, particularly alcohol and caffeine as they may not remember how much they have drunk, already. Too much caffeine will interfere with sleep. Also they will very likely be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than in the past, so watch the consumption very carefully, especially if people are topping up glasses (they may have no idea how much they have drunk!)
Watch those food portions – Dementia can affect a person’s appetite and they may not want to eat a huge Christmas dinner. Give them a smaller portion and offer second helpings later, if they are hungry. Avoid letting them drink too much alcohol to reduce the risk of falls.
Don’t overdo the present-wrapping – Make present unwrapping easy – go easy on the sellotape and ribbons so they aren’t struggling to complete this task in front of others.
Look after you – Remember that you need a break from time to time as well. If you feel tired, ask another family member to sit with the person or accompany them on a walk.
Manage the noise – People living with dementia often find it difficult to listen to one person in a room where lots of people are talking. They are not able to distinguish one train of conversation when there is lots of noise in ear shot, so don’t position them in the middle of a noisy room or seated at the middle of the table.
Maintain the routine – Try not to change their routine and keep them orientated regarding timings of the day, including timing for any medication.
Keep introducing – Remind them of the names of family and friends visiting and make sure you introduce everyone clearly (with reference to the relationship) to avoid their embarrassment of not remembering names of grandchildren etc.
Reminisce – People with dementia will be able to remember the past in detail and engage in conversation about previous events, so ensure reminiscent topics are built into conversation or old TV programmes are watched.
Music for the Mind – The brain remembers music much better than other things, so they will enjoy listening to familiar music and family favourites – Christmas carols make the perfect festive accompaniment!
Rest is best –Build rest time into their schedule, people with dementia tend to tire more easily, this will also give you the opportunity to rest too.
Take it slow – Make sure they have more time to do everything than you would normally allocate, don’t rush tasks and be prepared to be patient.