A dining table set for a  Christmas meal

In the first part of Dawn’s Story, Dawn was diagnosed with Dementia and has taken up residence in an aged care facility.  When Bill her husband visits, there has been talk of how Christmas will be celebrated. Joyce, her favourite tea lady and friend has offered the family some tips for celebrating a dementia-friendly Christmas and holiday period.

Many people look forward to spending time with their family and friends at Christmas and during the holidays. However, when there is a family member or friend living with dementia, the experience for everyone can be overwhelming with an air of tension and pressure. Combine this with trying to connect after possibly months or even years apart, finding common topics of conversation, and the inclusion of summer heat and alcohol making tempers short and frazzled.

Dawn’s friend Joyce has the following tips which may help to keep conversations smooth and kind, feelings saved from hurt and misunderstanding, and everyone enjoying this special time.

  • Conversations are better kept simple with the use of short sentences. Slow down speech and wait patiently for a reply. Extra time may be necessary for the person with dementia to think and formulate an answer otherwise they may feel rushed and become flustered leading to feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness. Props such as old photographs can assist in jogging the memory of someone with dementia while also expanding the topics of conversation. If talking becomes too hard maybe singing or humming a familiar song works better. Music is known to soothe some people living with dementia.
  • Often at Christmas and during holiday times, homes that are normally quiet and orderly transform into places of noise with laughter and talking. With extra people comes extra things such as boxes of groceries or additional equipment like walkers and walking sticks. Planning ahead can help to minimise the associated stress of unfamiliar locations and situations. Having a bag packed with a change of clothes (ready for use if the person has been ‘caught short’ of a toilet) and necessary medication can be comforting. It’s also good to have a close family member or friend appointed as designated driver if feelings of anxiety are overwhelming and the person with dementia wants to go home. Alternatively as part of the planning, a bedroom with a bathroom nearby can become a quiet retreat so someone can lie down and rest.

Wooden table set with a knife and fork and Christmas candle and snowflake ornament

A wooden table set with a knife and fork, a Christmas candle and a snowflake ornament

  • Christmas meals often elicit fond memories of traditions such as saying grace, doing a toast, remembering family and friends who have passed away and wishing those present good wishes for the season. These can all be cues for the person with dementia that a meal is close to being served.

Christmas food table3

A dining table decorated with Christmas fare and a red table napkin

  • Smaller portions of soft food are more suitable for people who have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Finger food and snacks are good for people to make a choice with. Breaking from the traditionally table-served meal with plates and bowls placed around a room or deck, can help to keep people with dementia well-nourished and independent while free of the worry of using cutlery.
  • For a person with advanced dementia there may be assistance needed to prompt the use of cutlery (if that is how the meal is being eaten) and the table napkin may be laid in their lap. Often people with dementia have difficulty seeing what is on their plate so lighting needs to be considered and food served on a contrasting coloured plate. Consider having the person seated for easy exit from the table if they need to use the bathroom.

Christmas gifts

Christmas gifts on a white table cloth

  • Although Dawn is in care, her husband, her son Paul or her daughter Carol, may appreciate a kind word of enquiry about how they are going and offered the opportunity to have a break with time to rest and recoup from their routine. This could be something like lying down and reading, or taking a lengthy walk around a park or lake. In either case, assure them that their loved one will be attended to and cared for in their absence.
  • If someone is like Dawn and lives in an aged care facility, consider the length of time they are out. A visit of two hours may be the limit with plenty of time allowed for the return to their home so they can be settled back into their regular routine without a rushed goodbye.

 A dining table decorated with Christmas food

A dining table set and decorated for a Christmas meal

Christmas celebrations and how they are done is different for everyone, however for many the main focus is spending time with loved ones. For people living with dementia, the smallest gestures often mean the most. This could be sitting quietly with someone having a chat in the kitchen while chaos reigns out in the loungeroom, or taking a gentle stroll around the garden discussing the different varieties of flowers in bloom finishing up with a pot of tea and slices of Christmas cake.

Above all else being flexible with time and meals may help to soothe frazzled nerves and moods. And a good old laugh at a silly situation may defuse an awkward action or comment. 

Useful resources:

HammondCare 

Southern Cross 


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