Christmas is a time when many families come together to celebrate, and this can be challenging for families where someone is living with dementia. This is particularly hard if you must change regular routines or there are lots of people around. However, there are somethings you can do to help manage the day and still enjoy celebrating together.
A little bit of preparation in the run up to the festival can really reduce the stress. Make sure you gather a list of useful telephone numbers such as out of hours doctor’s numbers, helplines and which pharmacies are open. If you’re planning on going away, make sure you have packed all medication and any personal care support aids they may need.
Go to church or enjoy memories and traditions.
It is still possible to go to church and attend a church service. Often, hymns, prayers and religious events can stir deeper memories that are easier to access, and so more comforting for someone with dementia, than the general day-to-day. If you are not a regular attendee at the church have a chat with the people on the door when you arrive and explain that you are bringing someone with dementia and ask where the best place to sit is. Make sure you find out where the toilets are when you arrive and see if there is a quiet space you could retreat to if the service becomes a bit overwhelming. Most churches are very supportive even if they haven’t been through any dementia friends training.
There are many other things you can do together which can also be enjoyed by the person with dementia. These can include things like relevant seasonal crafts (e.g. painting eggs, making an Easter bonnet or santa hat), or perhaps going for a walk, putting on a favourite film or piece of music enjoyed by the person with dementia.
Eating and drinking.
Many festivals centre around a meal together and many traditions grow up in each family. Just because someone is living with dementia don’t stop this. Inviting a family member with dementia to help with meal preparation can be a great way to help them feel included. Even if it is giving them a peeler and asking them to peel the potatoes. Time together is precious and just the normality of the situation can help both the person living with dementia and yourself. Depending on their ability why not try making a cake together or just eating seasonal food (hot cross buns, mince pies) can tap into positive memories.
Remember, some people with dementia can struggle with large portions so keep it small to begin with, and then offer more if appropriate.
Keep them involved.
Try and keep the person with dementia included in activities and conversation throughout the day. Tailor what they do to their abilities, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Don’t exclude them because you don’t think they’ll remember. If they feel included and involved they will be happier and their emotions stay with them far beyond their memory.
Make time for yourself.
Never be afraid to ask for help if things get a bit too much for you. Asking family and friends to look after any jobs around the house during Easter can give you some time to recharge and relax. You could also ask if they’re willing to sit with your family member with dementia to talk to them and help them feel included. People are often happy to help, but might not think to offer themselves.
To find out more about Dementia Friendly Church go to www.dementiafriendlychurch.org.uk