While it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, many people can find that Christmas is quite stressful.
And, when you are looking after somebody with dementia, there are additional challenges on top of defrosting the turkey in time and wrapping dozens of presents when the kids are in bed.
For a person with dementia, Christmas poses challenges that include disruption to a routine, confusing changes to décor and the layout of a home, and the pressure to be social over extended periods of time. When somebody’s memory or cognitive skills are deteriorating, they will find these tasks especially difficult; it is important that they are catered for in the most sensitive ways possible.
By looking at each potential challenge in turn, we will suggest some ways to manage these difficulties and have a successful Christmas without causing your loved one with dementia distress or exacerbating their confusion.
Keeping familiar routines at Christmas
When Christmas is approaching, the prospect of several days where the usual routine does not apply can be a big worry for your loved one. For a person with dementia, keeping a similar routine every day can be reassuring and help them to understand what is happening. Our top tips for managing this include:
Get them used to the new situation
If your loved one has not been to your home for a while, and they will be coming there for Christmas, bring them on a visit or two before Christmas arrives. This will help you to understand what they can and can’t manage, and they will start familiarising with the space.
Consider their needs
Reduce noise (such as the TV, party poppers, music and shouting), and keep days manageable. Don’t expect them to be with you from 8am to 10pm when they normally have a nap in the afternoon and only spend an hour or two with visitors. Take them home in daylight if possible, so they can see what is happening and where they are. Also remind them of what they are doing and why things are different to normal.
Involve them in fun but familiar tasks
Involve your loved one with dementia in familiar and reassuring activities to gradually integrate Christmas celebrations in their daily routine. A great way to get somebody involved is to ask them to help with tasks such as making mince pies and Christmas cakes. If they can simply stir or if they can recall elements of their tried-and-tested recipes, they will feel part of things. These familiar tasks can be comforting and enjoyable.
Tasks like wrapping presents can be more difficult, as manual dexterity declines, but making paper chains or choosing where the tinsel should go are other tasks that a person with dementia can get involved in. This way, you will help them to feel part of activities while also familiarising themselves with your home.
The normal sleep disturbance that happens for people with dementia can become even more pronounced when there is a lot of stimulation. Stick to bedtime routines: don’t keep somebody up late, and make sure that factors like whether somebody has a Horlicks before bed or listens to the radio while they fall asleep are taken into account. This is especially important if they are sleeping somewhere other than their usual bedroom.
Music is an important feature of Christmas, as songs old and new surround us on the radio, in shops and at home. Many people, even those who struggle to communicate because of dementia, are able to hum or even sing along to familiar songs, and Christmas carols and older traditional hits can be very familiar.
Don’t have music on too loud, and make sure there is a quiet room somewhere for a break, but putting on some old-fashioned Christmas music can help a person with dementia to feel settled and in the mood for festivities.
Don’t be hard on yourself
Give yourself a break, as well as the person you are looking after. If you are so exhausted that you can’t function, you will struggle to cope and care for your loved one, and you will have no enjoyment of the festive period yourself. Even if you can only take a few minutes’ break, do it when you can.
Ask for support from your carer
Ask their advice on what best helps your loved one when they struggle. They look after them day in, day out, and therefore have expertise in what will calm your loved one down, what will help them to feel secure, and what kinds of food they will eat.
How to cope with caring for a loved one at Christmas
As well as making Christmas as manageable as possible for your loved one with dementia, it is also vitally important that you take your own wellbeing into account and cope with the stresses of the season.
Trust your instincts
If you make plans but are worried they are not appropriate, feel free to change your mind. If you are concerned that your loved one will be unsettled or unprepared, cancel or shorten your plans so that they become more manageable.
It may not be a perfect day and everything might not go as planned but enjoy the moments of clarity or those when your loved one with dementia – and everyone else – have a moment of joy. While there will be challenges, there will also be aspects of your day that are beautiful and meaningful.
Admit it’s difficult
There is no shame in finding this difficult and it can be a relief to say so. Ask for help when you need it, and be explicit about how people can help you.
Something will go wrong, it’s inevitable. Don’t panic, and don’t berate yourself. Instead, keep it in perspective, check everything is ok now, and keep moving forward.
Connect with others
Christmas can be a difficult and even lonely time for carers, who may feel that they are the only people not having a straight-forward, wonderful time. Remember that you are not the only person struggling: look online and in your local area for support groups and supportive get-togethers, especially for those caring for people with dementia.
Make a list of the phone numbers you need (GP, out-of-hours clinic, helplines) and make sure repeat prescriptions are up to date well before the festivities start.
Ensure you eat, sleep and take rest periods. Take time every day to do something you enjoy, and something you find relaxing. Make sure you have someone at hand who can help you to look after your loved one so that you can take a short break from time to time.
Everybody needs a rest, and taking some time where somebody else is in charge does not reflect on how dedicated you are to your loved one. In fact, getting care from specialised at-home carers can help you to cope in the long run as well as just over Christmas.
If you wish to have a chat about how to arrange home care please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our advisors for a free care consultation on 01494 523480