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Fun Festive Activities for The Elderly with Dementia

How to make Christmas enjoyable for all the family

When someone is living with dementia it doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy the things they always used to, such as celebrating Christmas with the family and honouring long-held traditions, however, there will be some measures that the family or carers can put in place to ensure that the person’s particular needs are respected, while still celebrating a joyful holiday season.

This can include having a quiet room where the person can go if the noise of the festivities becomes too much and making sure that people spread their visits out so that they don’t all descend onto the person at the same time. Keeping to the person’s routine as much as possible will help them to remain relaxed during Christmas, and the Alzheimer’s Society recommends, “Having meals at regular times and in familiar surroundings will help to limit any potential confusion.”

Festive Cheer with Christmas Music

Music means an awful lot to many people; for those who enjoy listening to music it has likely accompanied their life through its ups and downs over countless years. Consequently, for someone living with dementia who has always loved music it can be something that is a valuable link to the past and especially with advanced dementia, may animate them in a way that nothing else can.

Listening to familiar Christmas music, or singing hymns if they’re religious, can really stimulate memory for someone living with dementia, and according to Dementia UK may be useful for “improving general attention, cognition (thinking), memory, speech and communication skills. It has also been shown to help reduce agitation and depression for some people.”

Creative Arts & Crafts

If your loved one with dementia has always enjoyed being creative, then why not get them involved with the preparations for Christmas? Making cards, garlands or other decorations can all occupy a person’s hands, which is something that can benefit a person living with dementia, as otherwise they may ‘fidget’, agitatedly pull at their clothes or blankets and struggle to keep calm.

Knitting or crochet may be something that they once did or perhaps saw their mother do, or if they were a keen artist they may enjoy colouring books or having a chance to paint again. These activities can all be utilised towards Christmas preparations, for instance photographing their picture into a computer then printing it for the family Christmas card. Writing cards may be something that the person has always enjoyed doing but can no longer manage, so if they can, get them to write their name once and then you can print it onto labels and stick them into cards.

As one person stated on the Alzheimer’s Society website, “Mum helped me to stick in a few of the labels so she felt involved, and I wrote the recipient’s name in at the top and did the envelopes.”

Enjoying Classical Christmas Films

There can be nothing more emotive of a Christmas past than watching old movies that we’ve always loved. For someone living with dementia though, watching TV or films from their youth can be a real tangible link with the past that they’re now reliving. Whether you’re a ‘Muppets Christmas Carol’ fan or prefer ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with James Stewart, watching long-loved classics can conjure up emotional feelings about a life well-lived.

Sitting down quietly together to watch a beloved movie on a day that can otherwise be quite hectic, may just be the antidote to a noisy and confusing Christmas for a person living with dementia. As the Alzheimer’s Society say, “Whether it’s an old song they used to enjoy or a classic Christmas film, find something fun you can take part in.”

Baking Festive Goodies

If the person living with dementia always cooked, or was a keen baker in their younger years, they might enjoy getting involved with the Christmas cooking. Depending on how far along their dementia journey they are will dictate how active a part they can play, but even if they are able to do the smallest thing it will help them to feel involved.

We’re all tempted to eat and drink too much of the wrong things at Christmas, but it’s important to be aware of how important routine is to someone with dementia. Being confronted with unfamiliar tastes could cause confusion and anxiety, and having a plate piled high with food can also be really off-putting, so it’s important to be mindful of how food is presented to ensure Christmas lunch is accessible for everyone.

A Christmas Home Makeover

Putting up Christmas decorations all at once can be traumatic for a person with dementia as the comforting environment they’re used to will suddenly look unfamiliar. This can lead to confusion and anxiety as the person tries to work out where they are and how they can ‘get back’ to the place they recognise. Therefore, the Alzheimer’s Society suggest, “Think about putting decorations up gradually over a few days so it doesn’t come as a big change to the person’s usual setting.”

Getting them involved in the decorating process is also a way to make them feel included, especially if they still have some of the decorations that they used to put up when they were younger. For instance, they may have a precious wreath that was always displayed on their front door or a special bauble that celebrated the birth of their first child. Ensuring the past that the person may now be living in is acknowledged and seen through their eyes is a sure-fire way of helping them to remain comfortable during celebrations.

Walking in A Winter Wonderland

Years ago, it seemed that practically every winter brought snowfall to most of the UK, however it’s apparently more the norm these days that Christmastime remains dry underfoot. However, if you want to recreate the winters of yesteryear so that the person living with dementia can feel that they’re walking in a winter wonderland as they did when they were young, there are ways to recreate the look of snow without the associated cold! There are many products you can buy to ‘fake it’, such as bags of loose flakes or fluffy outdoor blankets that can be draped over walls and pathways to recreate snowfall, just make sure you follow safety guidelines and ensure that there are no slip or trip hazards that may curtail celebrations abruptly.

If of course you’re lucky enough to have the real thing come Christmas Day, a gentle walk in a picturesque winter scene, especially a familiar area, may be something that all of the family can enjoy before you settle down to the day’s activities. It’s important to be mindful of whether the person with dementia actually wants to leave the house or not, and all appropriate safety measures should be put into place before you do.

Enjoying the Festivities with Helping Hands

If you have a loved one living with dementia, then it will be important to all of your family to spend special occasions together. However, if you’re concerned about their care on a daily basis, not just at Christmastime, Helping Hands can be there to provide the highest quality care at home. Our compassionate carers can be there on a visiting or live-in basis to support your loved one with every aspect of their daily routine, whether for one short visit a week, several longer calls per day or full-time, around the clock.

Our private carers can be there 365 days a year so that all of you get to live your lives with a good balance, and because we’re fully regulated by the Care Quality Commission and Care Inspectorate Wales you can be confident in our consistently high standards of care. Discover more about dementia care & support by calling our friendly customer care team seven days a week, or contact us via our website and we’ll be happy to call you back.

Page reviewed by Carole Kerton-Church, Regional Clinical Lead on February 3, 2023