Celebrating Christmas and the festive season is something most people look forward to – especially spending quality time with loved ones who they may not see very often.
While most of us enjoy the novelty of the Christmas Period – food & drink, lie-ins, noisy family parties, and shopping trips etc, we start to flag and struggle with it by New Years Eve!
Imagine how the change in routine and general ‘ Christmas whirlwind’ can affect the elderly or especially people living with Dementia. The overwhelming and exhausting effects could trigger confusion and cause your loved ones to withdraw and isolate themselves from the festivities.
This is a short guide on how to organise your Christmas Festivities to be inclusive, sensitive and most importantly FUN for all your loved ones.
PREPARATION: Before their visit, talk and explain to guests how your loved one is at the moment – remind them that they may need to introduce themselves a few times. Reassure everyone that if your loved one doesn’t remember seeing them, The “emotional memory” of time spent with someone who cares will give them a sense of well-being for a long period afterward
Explain to children that loved one’s behaviour may be upsetting, such as anger or crying and is part of the disease, and shouldn’t be taken personally.
SCHEDULING GATHERINGS: Plan gatherings and group visits beforehand so they are spread out over the period to make it less hectic. Factor in ‘quiet times’ during the day and have a quiet room for your loved one to have a break, peace and quiet and maybe a nap.
Make the most of your loved one’s best time of day and schedule visits accordingly. Avoid evening hours, which are typically more challenging for those with dementia
DECORATIONS: Flashing Fairy lights, Dancing Santas and singing snowmen may be your guilty Christmas pleasure, but these can be very disorientating and distracting to elder relatives. Constant background noise could make it hard to follow a conversation, so they may just withdraw.
Animated and moving figures can be terrifying to a dementia sufferer – especially if they appear to just suddenly come to life. Also, Faux Food decorations such as glass candy canes or gingerbread men decorations can be dangerous as they could be accidentally bitten into. In the sufferers’ childhood, these decorations would have been real.
Maybe have this year’s theme as ‘Less is More’. Limit twinkly fairy lights to the Christmas tree and only use static warm white light.
Display and make a feature of treasured ‘family favourites’ decorations. The whole family will enjoy reminiscing and talking about their favourite decorations.
ENTERTAINMENT: Get each guest to introduce their favourite childhood games
– Elderly relatives could still be a yoyo expert or Snakes and Ladders Champion.
Organise a Christmas Sing-a-long when guests have arrived to get everybody relaxed and in the festive spirit. People with Short Term memory issues will still usually remember the words to childhood songs and will remember the happy memories associated.
FAMILY MEMORIES – Get photo albums out and talk about old photos. Get older children to video and ‘Interview’ elder loved ones about their childhood Christmases, parents, what work they used to do, etc. These will be a lovely family keepsake for the future too.
By simplifying and planning your Christmas festivities more thoroughly, you probably will find everybody benefits from a calmer, more relaxed Christmas. Perhaps this is the year to cut back on outside commitments and obligatory social engagements, giving you more time to focus on your loved ones and feel recharged for the New Year ahead.