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Christmas is a time when families tend to come together to enjoy precious moments with all the extended family members – often over several days for those with larger families.

 

For those living with dementia Christmas can be overwhelming and distressful as their routine is disturbed and there is often a lot of noise, fuss and stimulation. But this time of year can also be difficult for family members who struggle to come to terms with their loved one’s condition and are unsure about how to communicate with them.

 

Our Dementia Friends Champion and Private Client Lawyer, Debbie Duggan, offers some words of wisdom to those visiting family this year;

 

Help Coping with Dementia

 

Christmas is a time to spend quality time together and to see elderly relatives that you perhaps don’t have the opportunity to spend much time with throughout the rest of the year.

 

However, it is also a time when difficulties or changes in behaviour become more noticeable to family and friends. Christmas and New Year is a common time for people to start looking into care homes or at-home carers for their loved ones.

 

Dementia is a disease of the brain that does not improve. There is no cure for dementia and depending on what type of dementia someone is suffering with they will either gradually or rapidly deteriorate over time, sometimes in different stages or at different rates. It can often be a shock to family members who perhaps didn’t quite realise the severity of their condition and this is not nice to deal with over what is meant to be the ‘most wonderful time of the year’.

 

Managing expectations is crucial when seeing family or friends with dementia. It is important to try to understand as much about the disease as you can in order to manage your expectations before visiting. Feelings of guilt, frustration and sadness are completely normal but if you have a better picture of their capabilities ahead of time then it will help you mentally prepare.

 

If your loved one is in a care home, residential home or under close watch of a carer or doctor then try to contact health professionals ahead of Christmas to gage some insight on what to expect. This will also help you prepare younger family members for what to expect and also help you decide on what plans are appropriate for Christmas this year.

 

There is a lot of support out there for those with dementia and also for their families and friends – take a look online or at the useful links provided at the end of this article for further information.

 

Continue scrolling for tips on communication and Christmas day plans…

Knowing What to Say

 

If you have concerns about someone’s memory or behaviour it can be difficult to know when to speak out. Symptoms of dementia may be attributed to other things as well. Forgetfulness could be down to sleep problems or stress around this time of year too.

 

If you are worried then encourage them to go and speak to a doctor.

 

It may be worth checking in on your relative more frequently, particularly if they live alone. If you have family or friends that are nearby, or they have good neighbours, a quiet word with them may bring comfort to know they are being looked after.

 

Avoid asking too many questions or giving too many options to people with dementia. For example, when visiting it is better to ask “Would you like a tea or a coffee?” rather than “Would you like anything to drink?”

 

Another thing to avoid this Christmas is asking “Do you remember who this is?” when visiting family members. Instead tell them, “Here is your granddaughter, Ellen” or “Look how tall Christopher has grown”.  Pressuring relatives with dementia to remember information can be stressful and embarrassing. It can also be hurtful to family members who they struggle to remember.

 

See our article ‘Do’s and Don’ts: Dealing with Dementia’ for communication tips and hints.

Practical Ideas for a ‘Dementia Friendly’ Christmas

 

  • Understand what is feasible. Consider what plans will be suitable for a loved one with dementia. If they are in a care home, is it practical to take them out for the weekend? Would a day or a few hours be more suitable? Or do you need to make a visit to them at their home? Think about their normal routine, medication and mobility issues before making plans.

 

  • Food for thought. A giant plate of traditional turkey with all the trimmings or a rich buffet may appeal to most of the family, but consider the fact that often people with dementia struggle to eat. Little and often is sometimes more favourable and eating a meal with lots of noise and distraction around them can make the task even more daunting. Avoid busy table cloths or patterned plates as this can cause confusion. Serving a very small portion may be better, with a plate saved for later if they are hungry. Sometimes people with dementia will go hungry rather than tackle serving themselves food from a buffet, so perhaps bring them small bite-sized selection that they can graze on independently. If you are eating out for Christmas dinner then consider the atmosphere of the restaurant – is there a quiet corner or a private area you can dine in? Check that the lighting isn’t too dull. Go through the menu first and pre-plan what they will be ordering, speaking to the kitchen beforehand for any special requests.

 

  • Keep things simple. Too many changes and disruptions can be confusing for people with dementia and they can become overwhelmed with too much going on. Avoid racing around multiple houses or having different people coming and going throughout the day. We understand that Christmas can often be a busy and frantic time, but trying to keep a bit of familiarity, routine or home comforts can really help. Something as simple as bringing their own mug and slippers to relative’s houses can bring comfort.

 

  • Introduce decorations slowly. It could be quite scary for someone with dementia to wake up in their home with furniture moved about and Christmas decorations taking over the house. Eyesight and spatial awareness are often impacted when people have dementia, so shiny decorations or flickering lights could actually be quite dangerous. Introduce decorations slowly in the weeks leading up to Christmas and ensure that they aren’t creating any trip hazards.

 

  • Don’t leave them out. Just because Grandma or Grandad might not be able to play Trivial Pursuit like they used to, try not to leave them out of all the fun and games of Christmas. Try to think of a simple game that can be played by all or something that they can still join in and be part of the fun. Perhaps they can roll the dice without playing? Or watch a familiar festive film together that they can follow the plot of? Christmas can be a lonely time so ensure that loved ones are involved with your family plans wherever it is practical and possible.

 

  • Create a quiet space. If it all gets too much your loved one may want some quiet time to enjoy a cup of tea or rest. If you have a spare downstairs room or a bedroom where they can take themselves for some rest bite it will give them some independence and choice. Show them the room so that they know they are welcome to use it and perhaps leave some home comforts in there ready and waiting. A lamp, blanket and a mince pie will make them feel loved whilst they enjoy some quiet time.

 

  • Be flexible and have a ‘plan B’. Be mindful that things might not go to plan. Your relative’s health may not be good at the last minute, they could take a turn or suffer a fall or you may find that they are not enjoying themselves or are becoming distressed during the festivities. Be prepared to be flexible and adapt your plans if needed to avoid any disappointment.

 

If you have concerns about a friend or family member over Christmas then there are obviously some health and wellbeing considerations that you need to action as a priority. Once you have addressed this is it worth considering any legal aspects. Lamb Brooks Solicitors are here to help with specialist advice for vulnerable adults and their families.

 

 

Getting Legal Affairs in Order

Does your relative have a valid and up-to-date will? Do they have an LPA? If they do then is it time to evoke it? Do they still have capacity to make decisions about their property, finances and medical care? Are they going to require care home planning in the near future? Do they own their own property which needs to be sold?

 

If capacity is already lost and your loved one doesn’t have any provisions then you may need specialist advice about applying to the Court of Protection. It is therefore important to get affairs in order before it is too late.

 

There are lots of aspects to consider and some will have more urgency than others. For peace of mind, we offer a Fixed Fee appointment where you can inform us of your situation, discuss pressing matters and ask questions to help you put together an action plan for taking care of your loved one in the most tax efficient manner.

 

Please get in touch with Debbie Duggan on 01256 844888 or email debbie.duggan@lambbrooks.com for further information.

 

Useful Links:

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/help-and-support/

https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/

https://www.dementiauk.org/sources-of-support-for-families/

 

Local support groups (Basingstoke):

https://www.memorycafe-basingstoke.org/

https://www.hampshirehospitals.nhs.uk/application/files/5615/5300/2326/Sporting_memories.pdf

https://www.hampshirehospitals.nhs.uk/application/files/2215/5300/2489/carers_hub_basingstoke.pdf

https://www.hampshirehospitals.nhs.uk/application/files/3915/5532/4367/Basingstoke_Activities.pdf

Please speak to us if you are looking for dementia support in other locations as we may be able to make recomendations.

 

 

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.