Mental Health

10 ways to best support loved ones living with dementia at Christmas

Christmas is often a time for big family get-togethers but, if we have loved ones living with a diagnosis of dementia, it can be tricky to know the best ways to offer our support.

Here, Emma Hewat, Head of Dementia at KYN, a care home based in Bickley. shares her advice for supporting those living with dementia this Christmas.

How to support loved ones with dementia this Christmas

Help to bring back old memories

Whether it’s listening to an old song or watching a classic Christmas film, find something you can both enjoy doing. Playing Christmas music and singing favourite carols can be a simple way to enjoy the festivities together. Making a family photo album or memory box could also be a nice way to help build a meaningful connection.

Offer a listening ear

People living with dementia can be at risk of social isolation and loneliness, as longstanding friends may fall away through fear or lack of understanding about the condition. We can help by offering a listening ear when a loved one shares their feelings, even if they are negative. Having an empathetic discussion can help to process their emotions, whether they are going through a loss or coming to terms with new health challenges. Taking time to chat with people living with dementia over Christmas might make their day.

Help with using digital technology

To help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, we can offer help using digital technology to a person living with dementia. For example, showing them how to make a video call on a smartphone or tablet, so they’re better connected to loved ones outside of the festive season. Writing down instructions so that they can refer back to them later can be incredibly useful, too.

Connect with cooking

Baking a festive treat can be lovely way to spend time together. Cooking and eating favourite festive treats, from Christmas cake to mince pies, can help childhood memories flow. Writing the shopping list or going shopping together are activities that can help build a more meaningful connection particularly with grandchildren, and give something for the family to enjoy on Christmas Day.

Offer help to put up Christmas decorations

A great way to spread the festive spirit as well a chance to reminisce is by helping put up the Christmas decorations. It can be less overwhelming for someone with dementia to have the decorations introduced slowly so think about putting decorations up gradually over a few days, so it doesn’t come as a big change to the person’s usual setting.

Chat about the decorations that are going up, some may have been in the family for years, and share stories about Christmas past including any family traditions. Taking down the decorations after Christmas can also provide a nice way to spend more time together after the festive season, sharing memories and stories.

Keep it simple and familiar

A person living with dementia may feel overwhelmed over the Christmas period, so it’s best not to overdo it. Keeping the day’s activities low-key and following a familiar routine, can help. Avoid surprises if you can, explain to family and friends that living with memory problems can cause confusion and anxiety in busy situations but that simple conversation can help to prevent over stimulation.

Create a quiet space

Lots of visitors might be overwhelming for someone living with dementia, so ask family and friends to spread out their visits over the festive month. If things get busy, designate one area in the home as a ‘quiet space’ where your loved one can relax without noise. For some, listening to music on headphones can people help feel calmer and block out noise.

Be mindful of food

Although many people eat a lot at Christmas, a plateful of sumptuous treats can be daunting for someone with living dementia. Consider offering smaller plates of food and be prepared to keep food warm so that a person can enjoy all that is on offer at the right temperature.

Be willing to accept that one or two bites can be enough for someone who is not as physically active, or engaged with the spirit of the day as they used to be.

Enjoying a favourite tipple is fine as long as it does not affect any prescribed medications – if in doubt check with your GP.

Consider nutrient rich alternatives for Christmas lunch

Rich in protein, chicken may be the best nutritional choice for a Christmas roast. To make roast potatoes healthier, parboil and allow them to cool completely before roasting them – this allows some of the potato starch to become resistant starch when cooled, making it prebiotic and better for supporting gut health. This is also a great way to make the potatoes extra crispy!

Don’t forget to make space for yourself

Whether or not you are living with dementia, celebrating Christmas with family can be hard work, tiring and lead to unrealistic expectations of how the day should go. Be gentle with yourself and be prepared to be flexible and go with the flow.

If you are struggling with your emotions, seek help and support from friends or professional organisation such as The Samaritans, Dementia UK or the Alzheimer’s Society.

Find out more about KYN

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