Christmas is both a wonderful time of the year and also a difficult one and for some a lonely and terrible one.
Christmas is meant to be a time for family, friends, laughter and present giving, but no family is perfect and there are always tensions. These tensions are likely to be worse than ever this year, due to the stress of covid and any concerns about potential changes that may be brought in at short notice to manage the spread of the virus. And in the middle of all this stress, there might be a family member with dementia, who has missed contact with their family.
Considerations will also need to be made around the person with dementia and their covid risk in mixing with other people, so a Christmas gathering of 30 might not be the right thing for their risk of spreading the disease. Dementia is the most common co-morbidity of death
So how to get the best out of Christmas?
Firstly, don’t expect the picture perfect Christmas, keep that for the movies! Make things as easy as possible and expect each of your family members to behave as they always do. So if Granny always drinks a little too much, she is going to do it again this year! And if Uncle Ted is always late, he will be late again this year, so expect it.
It is OK to acknowledge that this is stressful, often the stress comes from not admitting it. You may choose to see your loved one on 25 December, so that they are part of the excitement of making dinner and sitting around the table, eating turkey. But you might also decide that all the hassle that goes with that is too much to cope with and spend time with your loved one with dementia, so choose to see them on a different day. Whichever is the right thing for you and your family is the right answer.
People with dementia still have stories and skills to contribute, even if it is just holding the wrapping paper in place so that you can put the selotape on. They might have favourite songs or carols that they love to hear and this might be part of your family tradition, I’m a huge fan of The First Noel sung by Elvis, it is beautiful!
Being part of a family gathering will be a potential stress or a joy to the person with dementia, either way, it is likely that the family environment will make them tired, so it will be worthwhile making sure that there is time to rest and recharge built in to the experience.
Whatever you do at Christmas, I hope that it goes well and that you all have the best Christmas that you can have in the circumstances.