Celebrating Christmas with a Person with Dementia

Celebrating Christmas with a Person with Dementia

Celebrating Christmas with a loved one suffering memory loss can be challenging for both the person with dementia but also their loved ones.

Heroes Allied Health over 65’s Occupational Therapist, Claudia Mendoza says that due to the high level of emotion and tradition associated with Christmas, it is likely to bring up a lot of memories for a person with dementia.  It’s not unusual for a person with advanced dementia to hum along to Christmas music reliving Christmases past.

So, along with playing some Christmas favourites from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby, Mendoza shares a few tips to help you have a fun and inclusive Christmas celebration with a family member with dementia:

Create a comfortable space for your loved one.

Large gatherings and loud noises may make your loved one feel overwhelmed and confused.  Try to create an intimate setting with people known to your loved one.  Mendoza suggests that if your Christmas day is full of children and activity, create a safe quiet space they can retreat to if all becomes too much.

Use place settings.

Use of place settings with names written in clear, bold writing on both sides of the setting is a simple cue to remind your loved one of each person’s name.  It also avoids them feeling embarrassed having ‘forgotten’ the name of family member or where their seat is at the dinner table.

Don’t go overboard with decorations.

Whilst it is a tradition to decorate the Christmas tree and dress the table be mindful of additional decorations hanging overhead or on dressers.  This can cause over stimulation and confusion, as can Christmas crackers and poppers.  The best idea is to decorate gradually and get your loved one involved.

Try and keep the routine.

Mendoza explains that routine is important for a person with dementia as it helps them feel comfortable and calm with a sense of familiarity.  As such, she suggests to plan the meal to match your loved ones routine, and keep in mind they may need an afternoon nap after all of the activity.

Get your loved one involved.

Ask your loved one to get involved with meal preparation, it could be passing the ingredients to you, stirring the cake mix or helping prepare stuffing or pudding. Try to include one of your loved one’s favourite Christmas meals/dish as this will bring smiles, comfort and provides a sensory cue that is Christmas and a time of celebration.  These familiar tasks can be comforting and enjoyable, particularly if they can recall elements of their family recipes.

Allow time for breaks

Your loved one may want to sit in a quiet place for a short time; it is OK.  We all need a break when feeling overwhelmed or tired.

But most importantly Mendoza reminds us the importance to trust your instincts, go with the flow and relax.  ENJOY THE MOMENT AND CHERISH THE MEMORIES!!!  Living and loving a person with dementia isn’t always easy and can be unpredictable at times.  By including these tips should help for your Christmas day to be memorable and enjoyable.

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