Tips on supporting a loved one living with dementia this festive period

The festive season should be joyful for everyone. Alzheimer’s Society’s Angelo Makri shares top tips to help make it so

A group of adults and children collaborate on making a gingerbread house
Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

There are currently 78,600 people living with dementia in London. One in three people born in the UK today will go on to develop dementia in their lifetime and currently 900,000 people in the UK are living with the condition. By 2040, 1.6 million people will be living with the condition in the UK, and many millions more carers, partners, families and friends affected.

Angelo Makri is the Alzheimer’s Society’s Senior Knowledge Officer for Wellbeing. Here are his top tips on supporting a loved one living with dementia during the festive period.

Put up decorations gradually

We all love festive decorations but a sudden change in environment can be confusing and distressing for someone living with dementia. Introduce decorations gradually so it doesn’t come as a shock to the person living with dementia.

Keep it simple and familiar

For someone living with dementia, Christmas can be an overwhelming time, but keeping activities low-key may help your loved one stay relaxed. For example, if your loved one usually goes to midnight mass but is unable to this year, consider alternatives such as a televised or online service. If they have dinner at the same time every day, stick to the same timings at Christmas and in a familiar setting.

Get everyone involved

There are plenty of ways to get your loved one involved in Christmas, such asking them to hang a bauble on a tree, choosing a favourite song for a festive playlist or doing a spot of Christmas shopping.

Create a quiet area

Lots of guests over the festive season can be overwhelming for people with dementia. If things do get busy, designate one room a ‘quiet space’, where the person living with dementia can retreat to and relax in.

Bring back old memories

Treasured photos, songs or activities can be a great way to engage with people with dementia. Take time out of the busy day to sit down with your loved ones and reminisce.

However, be mindful that there may be events or memories the person may not wish to reminisce about.

Be mindful of food

A plateful of food can be daunting for someone who has difficulties eating. Try to keep to the same size portions and types of food the person normally likes. If they prefer finger foods to a large meal, consider ways to accommodate this. Don’t hurry the person, give them enough time to eat and enjoy themselves.

Be flexible

It’s easy to get caught up in Christmas traditions and how things have always been done in the family, 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.

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 there are restrictions in place.

Planning can also allow for staggered visits during the day so the person is not overwhelmed with lots of visitors at once.

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