I have jotted some thoughts and ideas below based on my reflections on the last two Christmases with my parents when they had dementia, before they passed away.
1. Adjust expectations
The second last Christmas was when they were still at home. It was three years ago so a little distant in my memory, but my overall idea from that year was I had to prep my family and go with the knowledge that we would have to be patient and do all of the food. They lived too far to bring them to my place. If you do the food, plan the menu with their food needs in mind.
If you live close, it’s probably better to bring them to your place, while bearing in mind they will need a quiet place to withdraw if it all gets too much. If you have kids, explain to them the concept of entering their world and going along with the story, even if they tell it over and over. Also explain they will need to keep conversation simple and speak clearly and slowly. This will make for a more peaceful time.
2. Spend Christmas with them even if it will be unbearably difficult
My parents last Christmas was spent in their aged care home. The staff did a wonderful job of hosting the families who had to travel to be there. However, as always, they were understaffed and there were some unpleasant smells they didn’t have time to get to. My parents found the noise overwhelming and didn’t really know what was going on. We took them for a walk which was a little better but they couldn’t wait to get back to their familiar environment. Not the best Christmas we’ve had. Truth be told, they wouldn’t have remembered it or hardly noticed if we were there or not. However, I am forever glad we went as I now know it was their last Christmas. I have the memories of our last Christmas together, with no regrets.
3. Photo book gift
For a gift on that last Christmas, I gave my parents a photo book with names and explanations under each photo. They treasured that book and carried it around with them constantly showing the staff and other residents the photos of their family and their life.
When I visited, it gave me something to do with them and gifted us some precious moments together reminiscing.
4. Christmas Carols
Dr Maggie Haertsch, CEO of the Arts Health Institute says, “music awakens a part of the brain not impacted by dementia and evokes responses, such as singing and movement, and brief moments of reconnection with loved ones.”
Why not play your loved ones favourite Christmas Carols and see what positive moments come from it. Perhaps even have a sing-a-long to form some special family memories.
For further reading and ideas, go to Alzheimer’s UKs blog – Support somebody with dementia at Christmas
Whatever you do this Christmas, I wish you peace, ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ and memory-making special moments with your loved ones.