Ideas to support friends and loved ones with dementia in enjoying this Lunar New Year
Celebrated for thousands of years, the Lunar New Year is an important family occasion, which marks the end of winter and the start of the new spring. The celebration starts on Saturday 10 February and lasts until Saturday 24 February 2024.
It holds many special memories for Annie Chinfen, who is 94 and living with dementia. Annie, who continues to celebrate the festival, said: “Sometimes I can feel my brain getting foggy, and my memory is not as good as it should be. But the memories I have of Chinese New Year are amongst the warmest and nicest memories I have.”
“Chinese New Year is still important now. It is still a reason to phone each other and send gifts. My family are all over the world. It is chance to have a reunion and bring the generations together. It connects you to your community.”
2024 will welcome the Year of The Dragon in the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
Jackie Swapp, Regional Manager from Alzheimer’s Society, says “One in three people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime. Family traditions and celebrations should be joyful and meaningful for everyone including the 900,000 people currently living with dementia.”
Here, Jackie shares six ways to support people with dementia over the Chinese New Year.
- Put decorations up gradually
Introduce the new environment slowly. Think about putting decorations like red lanterns and paper cuttings up gradually over a few days so it doesn’t come as a big change to the person’s usual setting.
Annie said: “It is common for a plum or a peach tree to be cut and put in the house, because the blossoms are red and pink, and those colours, along with gold and silver, are the colours of the celebration. The tree is for good luck because everything blooms!”
- Keep it simple and familiar
Someone with dementia may feel overwhelmed, so it’s best not to overdo it. Keeping the day’s activities low-key will help your loved one to relax. Having meals at regular times and in familiar surroundings will help to limit any potential confusion. Sticking to a familiar routine is a good idea where possible.
- Create a quiet area
Annie says: “Chinese New Year is not like it is in the west where you celebrate that one day. In our culture, we celebrate for 16 days. And over those days you would go and see people at their house and receive people at your house.”
Many guests can be overwhelming, so ask family and friends to spread out their visits. If things do get busy, designate one room or space in the home a ‘quiet area’ where your loved one can relax without loud noise.
For some people, listening to music on headphones can be a good way to block out the noise and feel calmer.
- Bring back old memories
Whether it’s a tradition, an old song they used to enjoy or an old recipe, find something you can take part in that is important to the person. Making a family photo album or memory box could be a nice way to spend time together.
Annie said: “I came from a very big family, and there was such excitement. I would get new clothes and getting ‘Lucky money’ was so exciting and made me so happy. It was to encourage saving, because in Chinese culture, saving is important. I remember my father very clearly – it was very important to him.
“We would release firecrackers and the louder the bang, the luckier it would be for business or farming. I can’t go back, but I can mark those traditions with other people like me.” Annie comments.
- Be mindful of food
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. 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.
Annie comments: “It was a great tradition for families to provide the best food you could… and the young people would have sweets and cake.”
- Be flexible
It’s easy to get caught up in traditions and how things have always been done in the family, but your celebration 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.
There are approximately 78,600 people with dementia living in London. Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Support Line (0333 150 3456) provides a translation for callers who do not have English as their language of choice. We also provide a number of dementia publications and films in other languages.
To find out more visit alzheimers.org.uk.