Including people with dementia this Christmas

22 December 2014

As the festive season approaches, Carol Bennett, CEO Alzheimer’s Australia is urging families, carers and friends of people with dementia to have a dementia-friendly festive season where their loved ones with dementia are supported to be involved in the festivities.

Ms Bennett said: “The festive season can heighten the sense of social isolation felt by people with dementia as it’s traditionally a time for social gatherings, exchanging of gifts and sharing food and drink. But for people with dementia, the break from the usual routine can cause confusion and often result in further social isolation. The way our family and loved ones with dementia experience the festive season is partly up to us.” 

Social isolation has been identified by people with dementia – in the latest survey conducted by Alzheimer’s Australia, Living with dementia in the community: challenges and opportunities, as a major issue associated with a diagnosis of dementia.

Kate Swaffer, who has a diagnosis of dementia, said: “Even if people with dementia are with others during the festive season, it is easy to feel lonely and isolated. This is because often many sentences begin with ‘Remember when…’ and on the occasions when we can remember an event or conversation, it is wonderful. But the times we cannot, it heightens the shame, loneliness, sadness, fear and feeling of isolation.”

Some helpful tips for a dementia-friendly festive season include:

  • Flexibility when considering the best time to share a celebratory meal, bearing in mind that a change in routine may be confusing for a person with dementia. 
  • Modifying the environment to ensure triggers for confusion are mitigated. For example, at Christmas, these triggers may be in the form of edible looking artificial table decorations such as fruits, sweets or blinking Christmas lights.
  • Creating opportunities for family members and friends to share the caring role. They may assist by hosting an event at their own home or organising a group specific activity.
  • Encouraging the person with dementia to be involved in gift preparation. It is also helpful to suggest gift ideas to family and friends.
  • Allowing time for rest and quiet. Taking on too many tasks or trying to maintain past traditions may increase the feeling of being overwhelmed for the person living with dementia. 

A tip sheet relating to the holiday season and the issues that may arise for a person living with dementia is available at Dementia Tips 3 - Tips for Holiday Cheer or further advice can be sought by calling the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

Media enquiries:   Krystal Craig / 0407 019 430 / krystal.craig@dementia.org.au