How to manage Christmas with a loved one with dementia

The busyness and general chaos of Christmas is wonderful, but can also be overwhelming for all of us. That’s even more true for people living with dementia. Here’s how to help them make it as enjoyable and safe as possible. 

Christmas is a time full of fun and merriment for most of us. But for people living with dementia, the festive period can be a time of stress, worry and confusion when changes in environment, food and schedules, along with an increase in visitors, can be destabilising and upsetting.

Helping your loved one living with dementia have an enjoyable Christmas takes some planning. But by making some of these small and simple changes, you can ensure sure they, and everyone else, has the best, and safest, time.

1. Create a ‘Quiet Room’

One of the most overwhelming things about Christmas can be the number of visitors and family members around all at once. Ideally you’d get your guests to spread out their visits throughout the day, but of course that’s not always – or even usually – possible, so try to have a designated quiet room, away from the noise and mayhem where a family member with dementia can relax and calm down if it all gets too much.

2. Decorate Slowly

Putting the Christmas decorations up gradually in the lead up to Christmas is better than doing them all at once because this change in environment can be confusing to someone with dementia. It is better to ease your loved one into the festive period than to overwhelm them by introducing it all at once.

3. Have a Practice Run

If you are hosting Christmas try having practice run including the person with dementia. If they live in a care home, make sure to involve the staff and get their help in organising the day. Having a practice run will help you with organisation and help them feel more comfortable on the day.

4. Encourage Reminiscence

Christmas is a great time for reminiscing and talking about memories from the past. Playing traditional Christmas music and watching classic Christmas films with your loved one is a great way to initiate conversations about Christmases from their past. This can help to lift their spirits and encourage socialisation making them feel included in the festivities.

5. Be Considerate with Food

Christmas dinner is always one of the highlights of the day but a plate full of food can be intimidating for someone living with dementia. Instead give them small portions to start with. They can always have more if they want. As people progresses along their dementia journey their appetite can change, so it may also be helpful to stick to eating at their normal hours so as not to disrupt their schedule.

6. Be Flexible

Festive traditions are important of course, but accept that in order to make your Christmas a happy time for a family member with dementia you may have to forgo, or change, some of them. Crackers, for instance, can be distressing because of the to the loud noise they make, so skip those whilst they are around. And consider dementia friendly alternatives for anything you know might upset them. They could become whole new family traditions!

7. Keep it Simple

It always a good idea to keep things simple and stick to routine wherever possible. Eating at their usual times, for example, and being careful not to overdo it with the festive activities. Incorporating as much as you can that will keep your loved one calm and feeling safe will make the period relaxing and enjoyable for everyone.

One response to “How to manage Christmas with a loved one with dementia”

  1. Great tips! Sadly Xmas can be a time when children of elderly parents visiting for the holidays notice a decline in alertness or added confusion even when there isn’t a diagnosis of dementia. Can be a difficult start for the New Year… Good to organise a family discussion and if poss start making constructive plans…

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