8 ways to support somebody with dementia at Christmas

1. Put decorations up gradually

Introduce the Christmas environment slowly. 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. 

"This year I put the tree up on the first of December to brighten the place up and it made ‘C’ so happy, she especially likes the old wreath she has had for years even if she doesn't recognize it."

 

2. Keep it simple and familiar

Someone with dementia may feel overwhelmed over the Christmas period, so it's best not to overdo it. Keeping the day's activities low-key will help your loved one to relax.

Sticking to a familiar routine is also a good idea where possible. Having meals at regular times and in familiar surroundings will help to limit any potential confusion. 

 

3. Get everyone involved

There are many ways to involve people living with dementia at Christmas time – from something as simple as hanging a bauble on the tree to doing a spot of Christmas shopping. The important thing is that they feel included. 

'With Christmas cards, my mum still wanted to send them out, so I got her to write her name on a piece of paper. I then scanned, resized and copied them and printed them out onto computer labels.

'Mum helped me to stick in a few of the labels so she felt involved, and I wrote the recipients name in at the top and did the envelopes. We did about 25 cards for her that year and she would never have been able to write her name more than once.'

 

4. Create a quiet room

A large number of guests can be overwhelming, so ask family and friends to spread out their visits over the festive period.

If things do get busy, designate one room in your house a ‘quiet room’ where your loved one can relax without loud noise.

 

5. Bring back old memories

Whether it’s an old song they used to enjoy or a classic Christmas film, find something fun you can take part in. Making a family photo album or memory box could be a nice way to spend time together. 

 

6. Be mindful of food

Although many people eat a lot at Christmas, a full plate can be daunting for someone who has difficulties eating. If you're doing the serving, try not to overload your loved one’s plate.

People with dementia can experience changes in how much food they eat and when and what food they prefer.
 

7. Be flexible

It’s easy to get caught up in Christmas traditions, but your festive season might begin to look different as dementia progresses. It's always worth having a plan B, and be prepared to change your plans if a particular element isn't working. 

'My mum loved Christmas with us but on Boxing Day, when we had other family and friends over (it was the same group of people every year, who she knew), she would get very stressed, sitting away from everyone else (sometimes out on the stairs).

'A couple of times she was abusive to other people and she was always clingy with me - the whole thing was overwhelming for her and she couldn't cope. This was despite asking who was coming, wanting to help with the preparations and being quite excited about it all.' Even if they seem ok with the whole idea, don't take it personally if they behave the opposite. In fact, our mantra for coping with Mum, these last few years, is exactly that - Don't Take It Personally!

 

8. Plan ahead

If the person with dementia is living in a care home, it can be helpful to ask the home in advance what their plans are for Christmas Day - particularly if they have coronavirus restrictions in place. 

 

 

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