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Whether you’re having them to stay at Christmas, or visiting them in a care home, David Moore, a Dementia Strategy Consultant for Hallmark Care Homes, has tips on helping someone with dementia enjoy the festive period. 

Christmas is a special time of year for many people, including those living with dementia. However, having more visitors than usual and seeing their surroundings change quite suddenly can be overwhelming – so if this is your first Christmas as a friend or relative, keep the following in mind:

Decorate gradually

Eager to put up the Christmas decorations? Slow down, and try to stagger the activity by putting lights up one day, then the tree a few days later. By making a series of small changes instead of giving the house a Christmassy makeover all at once, you can make it easier for the person living with dementia to adjust.

Keep decorations relatively simple, and when wrapping gifts, use plain but colourful wrapping paper if possible.

Avoid overstimulation

Even if you decorate in stages, the influx of colours, decorations and music can all get a bit much sometimes. Ensure there’s a calm, quiet space somewhere in the house, without music and flashing lights, where your loved one can rest up if it gets too much.

If you are visiting a loved one in a care home, having the extended family all visit together may be quite bewildering and leave the person with dementia feeling uncomfortable. Visit in smaller groups, introduce Christmas presents in a calm and casual way, and let children know not to be too loud or excitable.

Food and drink

People tend to eat and drink more than usual at Christmas. Make sure nobody gets rowdy around the person with dementia, and be sure not to overload their plate, as too much food can be overwhelming. People living from dementia often find their tastes change, so don’t stress too much if the turkey is suddenly unappetising to them – and be sure to offer them desert, as sweet things are often easier to eat for people living with dementia.

Incidentally, Christmas food makes great snacks. People living with dementia don’t always want a full meal, so pigs in blankets, sausage rolls, mince pies and other treats are ideal to keep in the fridge for when they get hungry.

If your loved one lives in a care home and Christmas baking is a family tradition, bringing them a small slice of a homemade treat may remind them of home and bring back some happy memories – just don’t take it personally if their tastes have changed and your Christmas cookies are no longer their favourite.

Family traditions

Christmas is all about enjoying each other’s company, and sharing (and making) happy memories is a wonderful way to spend the festive period. Your loved one may have a favourite carol that you could sing together, or a film they always watch around the holiday season.

If you’re visiting your loved one in a care home, be sure to bring the photo album and reminisce about the Christmases you’ve shared in the past. Ask them about their childhood Christmases – not only is this a chance to find out more about your loved one, but it may also cheer them and get them in the festive spirit.

It’s also important that you make Christmas enjoyable for yourself. Try not to set any expectations, and just enjoy the time you share together without comparing it too much to other years. If your loved one is staying with you over the Christmas period, be sure to give yourself a little downtime too – caring for somebody can be tiring, and you’ll all have a more enjoyable Christmas if stress levels remain low.

David Moore, is the Dementia Strategy Consultant for leading care provider, Hallmark Care Homes and has over 18 years’ experience providing training and consultancy for organisations who provide care for those living with dementia.