Are you worried that the person you care for will find it difficult to cope on Christmas Day? Find out how to make the big day enjoyable for the whole family.
Whether you’ve got a houseful of guests on Christmas Day, are invited out for lunch, or are celebrating quietly in your own home, here’s how to overcome all the potential pitfalls and ensure events go as smoothly as possible if you have someone with dementia staying with you.
1. Opening presents
It doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone enjoys receiving presents. A person with dementia might not remember what the occasion is, but if you hand them a present with a smile and say ‘Merry Christmas’ they’ll soon get the idea.
Give them time to open it without feeling rushed. Offer help if they need it but don’t try to rush them. If they don’t want to open it yet, that’s fine too. Leave it until later. A person with dementia can become stressed if they feel everyone’s watching them, so keep present-giving calm and casual.
Try not to take it personally if they don’t seem grateful or don’t react in the way they normally would to a generous or thoughtful gift. Remember, they’re doing the best they can and they still love you as much as they always have.
Watch out for tripping hazards. Presents and wrapping paper scattered all over the floor can be dangerous for a person who’s frail and prone to stumbling. Have a recycling bag ready to clear up wrapping paper and make sure gifts are put somewhere safe
2. Practicing religion
If your loved one has always gone to church on Christmas Day, there’s no reason to stop now. They may get great enjoyment from listening to Christmas carols and find the whole experience very comforting, even if they do appear confused and keep forgetting why they’re there.
3. Preparing lunch
They might not be able to cook a turkey with all the trimmings, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you with the preparations for Christmas lunch. It’s wise to have a few jobs ready for them to do so that they feel included and needed. Whether it’s helping to set the table, stirring the gravy or peeling the potatoes or sorting out or folding the napkins, pick a job that is manageable for their level of dementia so they feel involved. And if they don’t want to get involved? Don’t force them. Settle them down with some interesting activities until lunch is ready.
4. Preparing visitors
If you have guests coming it’s best to warn them in advance about your loved one’s condition. Simply explain that they may see quite a difference in their behaviour or demeanour, that they may not join in conversations anymore or may keep repeating themselves. This should help to avoid embarrassment and unnecessary stress for everyone, especially the person you’re caring for.
5. Eating Christmas lunch
Many people with dementia struggle to eat so sitting down to a plate piled high with food can be very off-putting. Instead, make sure they’re given small portions of food they enjoy. If this means they don’t eat exactly the same as everyone else, that’s fine. The good thing about Christmas lunch is that it usually lasts quite a long time, so there’s no need to rush them. If they’re still eating the main course when others are tucking into Christmas pudding, that’s fine too, providing they’re still enjoying it.
Don’t draw attention to the way they eat or what they’re eating – this can be very stressful and humiliating for a person with dementia. If they hardly eat anything but seem to be quite happy, it doesn’t matter. They could tuck into a plate of reheated food or a turkey sandwich later when everything’s calmed down.
6. Rowdy relatives
Noise can be difficult to cope with if you have dementia so if everyone’s about to pull their crackers warn your loved one in advance or take him or her out of the room. Of course it’s Christmas Day and it would be unrealistic (and not much fun) to expect everyone to eat, drink and remain silent! However if friends and relatives are reminded to keep the noise down a bit, it will help your loved one to remain calm. Or if this isn’t possible, try to keep one room in the house a quiet zone, where TV, music and noisy games (or people) aren’t allowed, and where the person with dementia can retreat if necessary.
7. Have another drink?
Drinking too much alcohol can lead people with dementia to become even more confused, and it can also affect their mood making them increasingly likely to become agitated and perhaps argumentative. It could also put them at a higher risk of falls or accidents. Whilst a glass or two of their favourite tipple can be a nice treat, make sure you keep it to sensible limits, especially if they aren’t eating very much.
8. Create a special moment
A family Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some activities everyone can enjoy. So get out the old photo albums, or show some family videos for a trip down memory lane. Keep up a family tradition such as watching the Queen’s Speech together or watch a classic film such as White Christmas – and tell everyone they have to sing along with Bing.
TIP: Don’t try to make Christmas totally perfect – you’ll just create more stress for yourself. Instead, try to keep it real, and if things go wrong, try to keep it in perspective. Then when it’s all over give yourself a big pat on the back for trying so hard and doing the very best you could.