How to survive Christmas with dementia

Lynn Carratt

Most of us look forward to Christmas, but as Lynn Carratt explains, a loved one with dementia can mean extra challenges during the festive season. 

Most of us eagerly anticipate the festive season as it means time for celebration, seeing loved ones, giving and receiving gifts and enjoying our favourite cheesy Christmas tunes. But for many families across the country who are caring for a loved one, it can be a tough time of year.

My dad Stuart, 73, was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, and we're certainly not alone. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK at present, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. This year, 225,000 people will develop dementia. That's someone every three minutes. 

dementia patient at Christmas sat by tree

Dad always liked Christmas (mainly because he was allowed to eat and drink more than usual), he'd spend hours putting up these awful bright foil trimmings from the 80s that would ultimately keep falling down. Every year we'd have a real tree that he would decorate with me and my brother Lee, then he would spend the rest of the festive season complaining about it shedding its pines all over the carpet.

He was good at buying Christmas presents too; we'd always get the must-have toys of the year. One year he queued for hours in a Stoke-on Trent toyshop so on Christmas morning I would be able to unwrap the Al La Cart Kitchen—I loved that toy. I am sure other families who are going through the same as us will be able to relate with similar memories of their loved one.

helping dementia patient wrap a christmas present

Now it's our turn to make Christmas enjoyable for him and support him through a time of unease brought on from a change to his regular routine. While he might not fully understand Christmas now, we still want to make it as special as possible. We don't know how many more, we have left with him.

With the help of the Alzheimer's Society, I have put together some helpful tips about how to make the most out of the festive season and help you support your loved one (and yourself) this Christmas.

 

1. Introduce Christmas slowly

Introduce festivities slowly over several days and put decorations up gradually, so it doesn't come as a huge change to the person's usual environment.

We'll be digging my dad's beloved trimmings out of the loft.

 

2. Keep it simple

A person with dementia can feel overwhelmed during the festive period. On Christmas Day stick to low key activities to help them relax.

Staying with a familiar routine and having meals at regular times will help to limit any potential confusion.

That means we've got to ensure that there a healthy supply of chocolate for my dad.

family dancing with dementia sufferer

3. Keep them involved

Making the person feel included can be something as simple as letting then as hang a bauble on the tree or taking them Christmas shopping with you.

We'll be decorating the tree with my dad and putting our old decorations on it. Although this year it will be a fake one.

 

4. Create a quiet room

A large number of guests can be for overwhelming for anyone, let alone a person living with dementia.

Ask friends and family to spread their visits out and try and designate a "quiet room" in your house so your loved one can relax if it all gets too much.

dementia patient resting in a quiet room at christmas

5. Don't overload them with food

A full plate of Christmas dinner can be daunting for people who have eating difficulties. Try to feed them little and often.

 

6. Be flexible

The festive season changes every year as their dementia progresses, so it's always worth having a contingency plan and be prepared for having to change a particular part if it isn't working.

 

Tim Beanland, from the Alzheimer's Society, says: "Christmas means many things to many people—it's typically a time for food, family and festivities. But for the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, it can be more challenging.

A diagnosis of dementia doesn't mean Christmas has to lose all its sparkle. There are lots of simple things that you can change to help make the festive period easier, from keeping celebrations simple and trying to stick to routines, to adjusting expectations for your festive period as your loved one's condition progresses, and seeking out support from loved ones and charities such as Alzheimer's Society.

"A diagnosis of dementia doesn't mean Christmas has to lose all its sparkle"

Over the last year, Alzheimer's Society answered more than 45,000 calls for help to its Dementia Helpline, which offers confidential support, help and advice for families adjusting to life with a loved one with dementia. We desperately need more funding to ensure we can continue to be there for anyone affected by dementia at Christmas and all year round, as well as continuing our research into finding a cure and improving care. We want to make sure no-one with dementia has to face a future alone."

 

You can help the Alzheimer's Society continue to provide vital support to people affected by dementia this Christmas, and all-year-round by donating.