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Your tips: how to help people with dementia feel included in Christmas and other festivities

Discussion in 'Alzheimer's Society notices' started by HarrietD, Oct 12, 2018.

  1. HarrietD

    HarrietD Administrator
    Staff Member

    Apr 29, 2014
    #1 HarrietD, Oct 12, 2018
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2018
    Hi everyone,

    The festive season can be a wonderful but stressful time. We want to help make it as dementia-friendly as possible. To do this, we'd like to ask you to share your ideas, thoughts and suggestions on how people with dementia could best be included in activities that celebrate all festive events, from Diwali and Christmas to Hanukkah and Hogmanay.


    If you are living with dementia, is there anything that's helped you feel included in past festivities?

    If you're caring for or supporting someone with dementia, has there been anything you've done that has helped to encourage them to feel more involved over the festive season?

    Your comments will be used as part of a wider campaign to create a dementia-friendly festive season, and we'll make sure you remain anonymous if you want. They may be featured in the media, on social media, or in a downloadable printed document. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this.

    Thanks all :)

  2. Duggies-girl

    Duggies-girl Registered User

    Sep 6, 2017
    We take Christmas to dad and keep it simple. Not too many choices for dinner and a film that dad would like. Last year we watched the new Dunkirk. Dad said it was boring and he would of preferred a cowboy film. We can't win so we don't worry too much.
  3. HarrietD

    HarrietD Administrator
    Staff Member

    Apr 29, 2014
    Thanks @Duggies-girl for sharing what you've tried before with your dad. Keeping it as simple as possible sounds like a really good idea.

    Last year, one of the tips a member shared was:

    My mum lives with me on a permanent basis. She loved Christmas when she was well and still loves it. Last year her grandchildren decorated her zimmer frame with Christmas lights. We try to keep it as normal as possible, but remember it's only one day. Do what you are able to do within the constraints that you have.

    Does anyone have anything else they'd like to share around the topic of making Christmas and other festivities inclusive, for either yourself or someone else? Is there anything you think would help others who might be worried about the upcoming festive season?
  4. nae sporran

    nae sporran Volunteer Host

    Oct 29, 2014
    We always have a quiet lunch on Christmas Eve with OH's daughter, last year I persuaded her to give me presents separately to be opened later as too much excitement and a meal lead to problems. Television is a non-starter as C won't watch it much during the rest of the year, so the day itself has more music and less tv as normal. I always make one wee special meal for the two of us with a German flavour just to make her feel at home, but keep it simple as Duggies--girl says.
  5. marionq

    marionq Registered User

    Apr 24, 2013
    This year two of my daughters and their families have decided they are coming to me on Christmas Day. I don’t have a big enough table for us all but the two grandsons of 14 and 17 are going to have dinner in the sitting room with Granpa while the rest of us eat at the dinner table. Now that’s a solution which will suit John nicely as he likes his dinner on a tray nowadays. So I look forward to a casual approach and they will probably watch football.
  6. karaokePete

    karaokePete Registered User

    Jul 23, 2017
    N Ireland
    I’m another who keeps the festive food simple. My wife liked to do all the holiday cooking but couldn’t manage it now. We both like pasta so keep to simple pasta dishes and make them different to the rest of the year by including smoked turkey and cheese in the ingredients. Of course, I indulge the famous dementia related sweet tooth by joining my wife in eating as much as she likes in the way of chocolates, cake and biscuits instead of my usual form of trying to steer her towards a healthy diet.

    Christmas Eve and New Years Eve karaoke can last until 4am so that’s our social activity as we both love karaoke and my wife comes alive when she does karaoke - the famed power of music in relation to dementia!
  7. HarrietD

    HarrietD Administrator
    Staff Member

    Apr 29, 2014
    Thanks @nae sporran, @marionq and @karaokePete for sharing what you've done in the past, and what you're planning to do this year. These are really helpful :)
  8. smartieplum

    smartieplum Registered User

    Jul 29, 2014
    This is mum's first year in her care home. I was just going to visit for a couple if hours and keep things normal. As was said previously, it's only one day.
  9. HarrietD

    HarrietD Administrator
    Staff Member

    Apr 29, 2014
    Thanks @smartieplum - that sounds like a good idea to visit for a little while, and keep things as normal as possible for your mum.
  10. Anise7

    Anise7 Registered User

    Jun 1, 2013
    We have formed a local group of carers called Other Halves. By focussing on the carers we have found those living with dementia enjoy each others company and we all do far more than we did when we felt isolated. We go to a pub for a Christmas lunch, we also go there monthly to play Boules and have lunch. One of our members cooks brunch for 20 of us in her home every month, someone often starts a sing song. Special days are celebrated by the group. We meet socially have outings, have a WhatsApp group to chat and support one another.
    Carer and person living with dementia are a team, be it partner, child or other relative. I would like to see more done for that team.
  11. Amy in the US

    Amy in the US Registered User

    Feb 28, 2015
    This will be my mother's fourth Christmas in her care home. The care home do a very nice holiday dinner and party every year in December. We always attend that party. They have one version in the assisted living side (we are in the States) which is more elaborate, and another version in the memory care/dementia wing, which is more sedate. My mother can no longer tolerate too much noise or fuss, so it is helpful to have a scaled down version. For example, the AL party has a live amplified band, where the dementia unit party has a pianist playing soft carols in the background. Father Christmas comes to visit and he is fabulous and knows just how to interact with all the residents, and is careful to talk to each one. My mother lit up with joy when she saw him last year.

    We used to take my mother out for Christmas dinner, but this is not advisable now. She cannot handle the wait in a restaurant--the last time we did this, she was convinced dinner was "over" after we ate the starters. In retrospect, we should have just left at that point. Any delay of more than five seconds in the food or drink appearing results in escalating annoyance and distress. Getting her there is physically more challenging, especially getting her in and out of our car. She has arthritis, and a bad left knee which she fractured a couple of years ago, and poor vision from cataracts and macular degeneration. She cannot see well in the dimly lit restaurant. She is not physically comfortable in their chairs. She cannot get in and out of a booth. She may need the toilet frequently. You get the idea.

    Three years ago, my mother was anxious about doing Christmas gifts but did enjoy unwrapping hers, in between increasingly anxious comments about "doing the shopping" and "sending cards" and so on. She insisted we put up her small Christmas tree (the one she has used for at least 20 years) and fussed over that a great deal. Two years ago, she did not understand what the Christmas gifts and Christmas tree were. Last year, she loved the Christmas gifts and knew what they were. This year, I don't know what I will do or what to expect. So we have learned to be flexible, and to adjust our expectations. We have gifts tucked away, out of sight, so we can produce them if the moment seems right, but out of her line of sight so they won't confuse her. We make sure they are items she will recognize, if possible (for her, books, food, and clothing; perhaps also a blanket or soft toy). We make sure they are easily opened, maybe no wrapping paper, but just a box with a lid--I don't think she understands wrapping paper now, and her arthritis means getting into things is difficult. We make sure to reassure her that she already gave us our gifts (a topic of much anxiety every Christmas even pre-dementia, made much worse in recent years by the dementia related anxiety). I know to be ready for questions about (deceased) relatives and there whereabouts and when we are going to the family meal. I know to keep calm at all costs so as not to agitate or upset her.

    I also know there may be surprising moments: at a carol sing before the meal last year, she shocked me by singing most of the words to most of the Christmas songs. Rationally, I know that even when spoken language is compromised or lost, people may still be able to sing as music (and the lyrics that go with it) is encoded and stored in a different part of the brain to spoken language, and the music part of the brain tends to be affected later than the speech part of brain. Rationally, I knew that, but emotionally, I was unprepared for how it would affect me (I cried then, and I cried in the car on the way home, and I am crying now as I type this).

    So this year, we will probably attend the Christmas dinner at the care home. We will probably visit on Christmas Day with treats we will definitely give her, and perhaps some gifts, or perhaps not. We won't stay long, probably an hour or two at most, and will leave when she is tired or cues us to leave, even if we have only just arrived. I will know not to expect anything, but to be happy if she is content and not agitated. If she can have pleasure in the moment with a gift or cake or a song or Santa, that has to be good enough, and I have to accept that it has to be good enough.

    But it does not erase the pain or the wish that no one, not my mother, not your parent, or sibling or child (or aunt or neighbour or cousin or anyone at all), should have to suffer from this most wretched and wrenching of diseases. That is what I would like for Christmas.
  12. CaringDaughter

    CaringDaughter Registered User

    Sep 22, 2013
    Amy - hugs to you.
    I too wish that no-one had to suffer this, at Christmas or at any time of year. x

  13. CaringDaughter

    CaringDaughter Registered User

    Sep 22, 2013
    I'm facing my first Christmas without my Mum. She used to like Christmas and decorations, and most of all liked having her family around her, so that's what we did. We played Christmas music - she loved music - and watched the usual corny films as she might have remembered some of them.
    Even if my siblings and nephews just sat and read or watched TV in the same room, it was company.
    For her last two Christmas lunches she was asleep. I set up her tablet in front of her, set up a Skype call from my phone and joined the family at the table to eat. I could keep an eye on her, go into her if she woke, and if she woke quietly she could see and hear us.
  14. Amethyst59

    Amethyst59 Registered User

    Jul 3, 2017
    This will be my husband’s first Christmas in a care home. I have just bought (I know, super early!) a tiny Christmas tree, so that he can hang a few of his own special ornaments on it. Last year, I decided on Christmas Eve to cook the turkey, and then thought I would pop some veg into roast while the oven was hot...and we ended up eating Christmas dinner a day early. It was so lovely and relaxed! I’m going to do the same this year. It doesn’t work for us for Martin to stay overnight with me, so he will come to my house and stay until the evening, then I will take him back to sleep and collect him the next day. I know this might be our last Christmas when I cook for us both, as he might need the security of being in the care home next year. It will all be very low key and quiet, he can’t take big family gatherings any more.
  15. shaktibhakti

    shaktibhakti Registered User

    Sep 5, 2016
    My mother finally went into a carehome in sutton three weeks ago. The staff adore her & she enjoys the attention & company but with the dementia she dosent show it! ill probably go up on christmas day and stay around for several hours there! Ive found her small tree which i might pop along to put in her room...we will have christmas cards arriving at her flat address after next month no doubt. I will cook some special things like cinnamon loaf & biscuits....previous years its been very difficult & grim, her being extremly negative & not wanting to go and visit family....I tended not to stay more than a few hours as didnt see the point!
  16. Toony Oony

    Toony Oony Registered User

    Jun 21, 2016
    We are approaching Mum's second year in her Care Home. This year I think I will be repeating what we did last year. I bought a few light up decorations with a battery and built in timer so they come on and go off automatically for her room. I also made her a Christmas quilt for her bed and some Christmas cushions. These will be brought out again this year.

    We have very little family just Mum, my daughter, my husband and I. Mum has not really eaten properly for well over 3 years, and survives on supplement drinks and cake ... with a tiny bit of normal food when it suits her.

    Mum's ( and previously her Mum's) birthdays are right by Christmas so that time of year has always been a big celebration for the family. Last year I just didn't know what to do. The CH really go to town for all festivals and birthdays so I knew both occasions would be celebrated, but what to do on Christmas Day? There was no way my OH would eat a turkey dinner with the residents - ours is always quite a gourmet meal - and Mum probably wouldn't want to eat it anyway. I just hadn't the heart to see Mum briefly on Xmas morning and then leave her with non-family for Christmas lunch ...

    In the end I packed an easy to eat 'Christmas picnic' with tasty little bits to satisfy OH and other little bits that I knew might tempt Mum. We timed our arrival about 30mins before lunch so that we could wish the other residents, their families and the carers a Happy Christmas. They then left, or moved to the dining room and we had one of the lounges to ourselves. We had some hot turkey soup, smoked salmon mousse and some small bite size canapes, plus bubbly and some pretty desserts. We pulled crackers, opened presents and ate our picnic as a family. I don't think Mum knew quite what was happening, but she loved that we were all together. We left Mum mid afternoon, in the midst of post prandial snoozing and Christmas activities, and Mum then joined her fellow residents for Christmas tea. It all worked brilliantly. I cooked our proper Christmas dinner when we got home and had it in the early evening instead. Hopefully this will work just as well this year.

    Just like last year, I have had Christmas cards printed with a message and Mum's name as she receives huge numbers of cards, but can no longer write them. A well known online printing firm does super ones, and they often have half price offers. I print sticky labels with all her friends' addresses on and Mum and I do a double-act of sticking them on the envelope along with the stamps. I peel - she sticks. They are put in some strange positions on the envelope, but at least Mum is involved ;)
  17. Kevinl

    Kevinl Registered User

    Aug 24, 2013
    As this just isn't about Christmas can anyone explain why some care home celebrate Halloween?
    Last year the activities co-ordinate dressed the whole place up and half the staff came in "fancy dress" and in the early evening some of the carers brought their children/grandchildren in all dressed up. Half of the residents did seemed to enjoy it but it scared the hell out of the other half.
    I know this is from an EMI nursing home point of view but I'd rather they didn't bother, it just upsets everyone's routine with a festive overload when they have no idea what's going on.
    Festive jollification which is just a marketing excuse for trying to sell you more stuff starting from about September really isn't needed and if it is it should be just for the day 9(or so).
    As I say this is just from the sectioned/EMI stage earlier on may be different but back in those days I tried to just keep every day as level as possible and where I couldn't make a doctors/hospital/memory clinic day less stressful for her as they demanded so much I could make festive days less stressful by not demanding anything of her, I can live without it when it come to it so it's a small price to pay for me.
  18. Caredigby

    Caredigby New member

    Oct 25, 2018
    I am new to this.

    My experience with Christmas for my wife who had Lewy Body dementia is, main point;
    HAVE IT AT HOME viz her's / our's
    She died two years ago, but 3 years before that we made the mistake of going to our son's home in Scotland (from Dorset). She was confused most of the time, much more than she usually was - mainly because of the strange surroundings - though she knew our son and his wife, plus her family who lived nearby, and our daughter & her partner who was also invited, and was happy to see them. I enjoyed the 'rest' of not having to entertain the rest of the family. But while I and the rest of us had a great time my wife could barely share it.

    The lesson for us was, "stay at home", where the person with dementia lives and where the surroundings are familiar.
  19. AliceA

    AliceA Registered User

    May 27, 2016
    I think perhaps the question is do the people want to be included in the celebrations. I think perhaps some people want to include a loved one in festivities as a way of comforting theirselves rather than the person concerned most. Trying to make life as it was.

    Visits short and sweet, not too many at a time. Edible treats to be spread over a period of time. Gifts given when the need or wants are there, any time of the year.
    Presence rather than presents. The gift of time.
    Music from the past, carols, Christmas songs.
    Give the carer a break? Take a ready made dish. Offer to sit for a while. A trip in a car for coffee, to a garden centre, an animal centre.
    Or just a trip down memory lane, the long term memory is often there.

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