Theresa Stanton, our award-winning Activity Coordinator at Buxton Lodge care home, gives her ‘top-tips’ on making the festive period a happy and enjoyable time for people with dementia.

  • Theresa Stanton
  • December 12th, 2017

For most of us, Christmas is a time in which we embrace frantic last-minute shopping, the hustle and bustle of family visits, and busy evenings putting up decorations and entertaining guests. It is a magical time which people look forward to and enjoy.

Not only are Christmas crafts fun – but with the right planning every resident can take part.

For people living in care homes, however, Christmas can be an altogether less joyful experience – especially for those residents who are living with dementia. Research by Alzheimer’s Society has shown that over 50% of people affected by dementia find Christmas “to be the most isolating time of the year”, with many stating that they “dread” the festive period. The fact is, for those living with dementia, the things about Christmas which may delight and excite the rest of us are often the very same things which make Christmas a difficult time of the year.

Changes in routine, busy and noisy environments, and even the decorations and lights put up in homes and communities can combine to cause stress and make Christmas a challenging time for people with dementia.

This is why those of us who work in care homes have to be careful to design a festive programme of activities which all of our residents are able to participate in and enjoy – whether they have dementia or not. To help you do this, here are some of our top-tips for creating a ‘Dementia Friendly Christmas’.

1. Keep the routine!

Routine is important for people with dementia. Keep set meal and activity times but don’t be afraid to introduce a ‘festive flavour’ to these.

2. Introduce your decorations slowly

Decorations are a big part of Christmas – but they can also be overwhelming for some people with dementia if introduced all at once. When we put up our decorations we make sure that they are introduced gradually, over a few days, to reduce the stress it brings to our residents.

3. Incorporate Reminiscence in your Christmas activities

A great way of introducing Christmas decorations to the care home is to get the residents involved in making them. Not only are Christmas crafts fun – but with the right planning every resident can take part. For our residents with dementia, we have found that old fashioned crafts like making paper chains or pom-pom snowballs and snowmen are both fun and easy to make, as well as promoting reminiscence by encouraging the residents to recall and discuss similar activities from their childhood.

4. Embrace the Christmas Carols

We know that music and singing can be hugely beneficial to people with dementia. We have found that having regular Christmas Carol activities in the lead up to Christmas is a great way to get all of our residents into the Christmas spirit, while triggering some wonderful memories for our residents with dementia. A good tip is to get children involved in the activity by inviting local school children along. Research shows that spending time with children not only helps combat loneliness – but can actually reduce dementia symptoms. And from personal experience we know that all of our residents love having the children visit and sing.

5. Create a ‘quiet-space’.

‘Top-tips’ on making the festive period a happy and enjoyable time for people with dementia.

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In the run up to Christmas the care home is often busier than usual – families want to visit their loved ones and we like to make the festive period as enjoyable as possible by inviting guests and having parties.
For people with dementia this can sometimes become confusing and overwhelming, so it is important to let them know that if this happens then there is somewhere quiet for them to go. While all residents can retreat to the calm of their bedrooms, some might want the quiet space in a more communal area. This is why we would always recommend that there is a room ready for them to go and relax in, until they feel ready to re-join the fun.

By following these top-tips we can ensure that our residents with dementia are able to join in the magic of Christmas and have a wonderful time while doing so.