Christmas can be a challenging time for everyone and this can be exasperated when caring for a person with dementia. Routine changes, additional noise and more people than normal added to a different environment and increased stimulation can combine to increase confusion and affect the behaviour of people with dementia.
Re:Cognition Health is passionate about raising awareness of dementia and pioneering new treatments and techniques to support those afflicted by all forms of dementia. The award-winning team of cognitive experts have produced a guide to help families and carers at Christmas to enable happiness and good cheer to resound throughout the festive period:
Put them first – Give greater consideration to the wishes of those with dementia and what Christmas really means to them. Think about how they used to spend Christmas Day and the things they enjoyed most – was it carol singing, a Christmas morning church service, watching the Queen’s Speech? Try to incorporate as many elements of their favourite Christmas traditions into the day.
Music from their youth – Music is a very powerful tool for those with dementia, we can all step back in time when we hear familiar songs from the past and this is particularly powerful for those with dementia. Combining the old with new so everybody is happy is a great balance and can give great joy as well as creating a familiar environment.
Plan ahead if they are staying over– If a person with dementia is staying over, ensure you are fully prepared to make it as easy as possible for them. They won’t be in a familiar environment, so it’s a good idea to play ahead, maybe include a few pictures they can associate with, old cars, old family photos etc and also consider using signs that are easily recognisable, so get creative with drawing symbols and arrows to rooms such as the toilet, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen.
Putting in the effort – Yes all this takes planning and a great deal of effort but hey, this is Christmas and that little bit of extra effort can be rewarded by a simple smile or laughter instead of the look of confusion!
Smaller food portions – People with dementia often have a smaller appetite, so offer smaller food portions – they will unlikely want a big Christmas dinner. Second portions can always be offered if they are still hungry.
Easy on the sellotape – Make it easy for the person with dementia to unwrap the presents. Their fingers may not be very nimble, so save them the struggle by making the presents easy to unwrap.
A bit of hush – If there is lots of noise and conversations in the room, people with dementia may find it difficult to have follow a conversation. It’s best not to position them in the middle of a noisy room or table and advisable to try to keep the noise levels low or if possible set a room aside for quiet if required.
Maintain the routine – Try not to alter their routine too drastically and keep them updated on the time of the day and activities taking place. Also ensure they take their tablets – it’s a good idea to set alarms in advance so they aren’t forgotten among the Christmas chaos.
Keep introducing – When friends and family arrive, ensure you clearly introduce each person and give context to the relationship– e.g. “This is your nephew Matthew, your sister Ethel’s son”. This will avoid the embarrassment of not remembering names but try to make it natural, never baby like!
Slow down – Build more time into tasks. Things will naturally take longer than normal so be prepared to be patient and don’t rush as this can be stressful for people with dementia.
Reminisce – People with dementia will be able to remember the past in detail so reminisce and reflect with them. They will love talking about past events and this will give them a sense of importance and happiness.
Be patient and be prepared to repeat
Look after you – You can’t do it all on your own, so ensure family members are enlisted to support. Plan ahead with schedules so everyone has a task and jobs are evenly shared. It’s important for you to take regular breaks to prevent exhaustion, so have other family members at the ready to step in.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in England and Wales, affecting 850,000 people. It is thought that there will be 6.5 million people affected worldwide by 2050 if the current trend continues.
Re:Cognition Health www.re-cognitionhealth.com was established in 2011 to provide a specialist service in the neurological assessment and imaging of cognitive impairment, neurovascular diseases and traumatic brain injury, including the provision medico-legal expert opinion. The Re:Cognition Clinics in London, Essex, Surrey and Plymouth are also major centres for international trials of disease-modifying and new symptomatic drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions.