“Christmas is a powerful way into memories. It can get people talking and when they are talking, you can learn more about how they are feeling, how they are experiencing the world and how they want to be cared for. That, and the fact that it is fun, makes it such an important time of year in our 110 care homes.”
Maizie believes the route to a happy Christmas is to follow what you have always done but with a flexibility about the finer details and timings.
Here are the team’s top 12 tips for the festive season:
- Making the Christmas cakes, puddings and mince pies is a great way of getting young and old involved; whether that is stirring, putting in the mincemeat or sharing their recipes. Decorating the cake, maybe using decorations that have been in the family for ages, is a safe and creative way for everyone to take part. But, as Maizie said: “You need to be relaxed about how the cake looks and just have fun together.”
- What could be better than getting everyone together and having fun over the arts and crafts table? Christmas paper chains, cards and table centres are practical and easy to make weeks in advance on those rainy Saturday afternoons. Care UK has produced a free book called As Easy as ABC, which is packed with ideas. In the book, there is a recipe for dough craft and the dough can be used to create paintable tree decorations. You’ll also be able to find traditional paper chain kits in most craft shops.
- Singing and music are particularly good at this time of year. “Language skills can be affected as dementia progresses and often people who have difficulties with verbal communication can sing along to seasonal music or tap out a rhythm along to the beat,” Maizie explained. “This can be a good way to communicate and connect with someone as well as being fun, so try a carol concert on the radio or just sing along with Bing Crosby on a CD.”
- Decorating the tree is another good way to spend family time, and for many families, there are special decorations with special meanings that can bring back lots of memories. Maizie said: “Make an occasion of it with lots of music and, if medication allows, perhaps a glass of mulled wine.”
- Dementia causes changes in a person’s perception, and sensory overload is an issue faced by many with dementia, causing them anxiety and distress and, as a result, shopping may not be possible in the seasonal hustle and bustle. Helping relatives to use catalogues or the internet helps them to buy the presents they would like to give friends and relatives and ensures they feel completely involved on Christmas morning.
- Finding some time for yourself is vital. Maizie said: “The run-up to Christmas can be stressful for carers, particularly if they have their own family to look after. Make time for yourself, don’t feel guilty and don’t try for perfection.”
- A little preparation can avoid stress over the holidays. Make a list of useful telephone numbers such as out-of-hours medical services, book repeat prescriptions or appointments and make sure your relative has packed medication or medical support aids if they are going to be away.
- Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for making the desserts and sausage rolls, so encourage a loved one to continue helping with this if it is something they enjoy. These types of activities keep up life skills and ensure they feel genuinely useful.
- On Christmas morning do what you have always done. Maizie said: “Decades of Christmas memories can re-awaken if you stick to your traditional Christmas. Go to church, if that is what your family do, or open stockings, just enjoy the moment.
- Have a quiet and comfortable place ready for your relative to go and sit. “The hurly-burly of present opening, noisy toys and over-excited youngsters and pets can prove too much for someone whose senses have changed.” Maizie explained: “To avoid confusion and anxiety, offer your relative a cup of tea away from the chaos if you feel it is all becoming too much, but avoid the temptation to sneak in there yourself!”
- Dish up lunch for the person as the impairments to eye-sight that dementia brings may make it hard for them to negotiate the serving dishes – don’t be offended if they do not eat a great deal; it is not your cooking, appetites often decline with age.
- In the early stages of dementia, people can still follow the rules of card and board games they have played before, so it could be time to get out some of the old family favourites. Take a look at As Easy as ABC before Christmas for some dementia friendly ideas.
Maizie said: “The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and enjoy spending time with your friend or relative. If you can laugh when things don’t quite go to plan, you and they will have a happy time and create new memories for your family.”