A family sits beside a Christmas tree

How to support a person with dementia at Christmas

Christmas means many things to many people—typically a time for food, family and festivities. But for people affected by dementia it can be more difficult. Here are 8 ways you can support people with dementia at Christmas.

There is always so much to consider at Christmas, and that’s especially true for carers.

So, with help from our online community Talking Point, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you make the most out of the festive season. Here are some tips to help you support your loved one (and yourself) this Christmas. 

Be sure to follow the guidance on coronavirus whatever you do.

8 ways to support somebody with dementia at Christmas

1. Put decorations up gradually

Introduce the Christmas environment slowly. 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. Talking Point member Nae Sporran said:

'This year I put the tree up on the first of December to brighten the place up and it made ‘C’ so happy, she especially likes the old wreath she has had for years even if she doesn't recognise it.'

2. Keep it simple and familiar

Someone with dementia may feel overwhelmed over the Christmas period, so it's best not to overdo it. Keeping the day's activities low-key will help your loved one to relax.

Sticking to a familiar routine is also a good idea where possible. Having meals at regular times and in familiar surroundings will help to limit any potential confusion. Talking Point member jaymor said:

'We kept it as just a normal day. Decorations, Christmassy food and goodies confused my husband and made him more anxious than he already was.

It was just too much for both of us. So for us there was no preparation.

'The children bought him clothes and his usual weekly supply of sweets and no Christmas wrapping in sight. He was used to his supply of sweets but the clothing was put away without him seeing it.'

3. Get everyone involved

There are many ways to involve people living with dementia at Christmas time – from something as simple as hanging a bauble on the tree to doing a spot of Christmas shopping. The important thing is that they feel included. Talking Point member Soobee said:

'With Christmas cards, my mum still wanted to send them out, so I got her to write her name on a piece of paper. I then scanned, resized and copied them and printed them out onto computer labels.

'Mum helped me to stick in a few of the labels so she felt involved, and I wrote the recipients name in at the top and did the envelopes. We did about 25 cards for her that year and she would never have been able to write her name more than once.'

4. Create a quiet room

A large number of guests can be overwhelming, so ask family and friends to spread out their visits over the festive period.

If things do get busy, designate one room in your house a ‘quiet room’ where your loved one can relax without loud noise.

5. Bring back old memories

Whether it’s an old song they used to enjoy or a classic Christmas film, find something fun you can take part in. Making a family photo album or memory box could be a nice way to spend time together. Talking Point member Agzy said:

'I have created a memory iPad which has nothing but hundreds of photographs of friends, family and places. Using my computer I have added names, year dates and place names.

'It has been a long labour of love but has paid off dividends as I update it regularly with new photos of interest to her.'

6. Be mindful of food

Although many people eat a lot at Christmas, a full plate can be daunting for someone who has difficulties eating. If you're doing the serving, try not to overload your loved one’s plate. We've also got lots more general tips to help with eating and drinking on our website. 

Talking Point member BarbGee said:

'My husband was diagnosed with Lewy Body about 12 years ago and increasingly finds changes to our normal routine distressing. For the last few years we've just stayed at home by ourselves and kept Christmas really quiet.'

'Last year Christmas Day was one of his "bad" days and he actually stayed in bed, asleep, until tea time.'

He wanted scrambled eggs so that was our Christmas meal. I think my tip would be to not expect much, keep it simple and try not to be disappointed if it's all a bit dull. That's life!

7. Be flexible

It’s easy to get caught up in Christmas traditions, but your festive season might begin to look different as dementia progresses. It's always worth having a plan B, and be prepared to change your plans if a particular element isn't working. Talking Point member wildasba said:

'My mum loved Christmas with us but on Boxing Day, when we had other family and friends over (it was the same group of people every year, who she knew), she would get very stressed, sitting away from everyone else (sometimes out on the stairs).

'A couple of times she was abusive to other people and she was always clingy with me - the whole thing was overwhelming for her and she couldn't cope. This was despite asking who was coming, wanting to help with the preparations and being quite excited about it all.'

Even if they seem ok with the whole idea, don't take it personally if they behave the opposite. In fact, our mantra for coping with Mum, these last few years, is exactly that - Don't Take It Personally!

8. Plan ahead

If the person with dementia is living in a care home, it can be helpful to ask the home in advance what their plans are for Christmas Day - particularly if they have coronavirus restrictions in place. Talking Point member Sarasa said:

'Mum's current home has a strict visiting policy so I doubt I could see her on the day even if I wanted to. I'll drop some present off earlier in the week. My mother in law's home is more relaxed, but I doubt they'd want all four of her children, partners and various adult grandchildren turning up.

'I guess they family will decide among themselves who visits when. My mother in law too has no concept of times or seasons so won't miss a big celebration.'

Join our online community

Our online community Talking Point is free and available over the entire Christmas period. Join or visit anytime to get more advice, share experiences and connect with others in similar situations.

Visit Talking Point
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20 comments

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I'd love some advice please.
We are dreading Christmas day and don't know what to do for the best. Our mum has moved into a retirement flat just 3 weeks ago...not really dementia friendly but far better and safer than where she was before. Each morning when I visit she is so angry and wants to go home....which just isn't possible anymore. I took my little boy and it really upset him. I was going to take Christmas dinner to mums and do gifts etc but it's really upsetting for everyone...even mum who I'd actually wake up from her sleep and she would get angry and upset. It's not fair for my son on his Christmas day too but we love her and want to do the right thing by everyone. It's just so sad and upsets me to be there with her. I don't know what to do.

Hi Sarah,

We're very sorry to hear about your mum. It sounds like a very difficult and stressful situation for you and your family. Please know that you aren't alone, and we are here for you.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 and speaking with one of our dementia advisers. They can listen to your situation in more detail, and give specific advice and support. More details about the support line (including Christmas opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it useful to speak to other people who are going through similar situations in our online community, Talking Point. Here, carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences and offer support and advice. You can read more about the community, or register for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps, Sarah. Please do call our support line.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Hi Sarah,

We're very sorry to hear about your mum. It sounds like a very difficult and stressful situation for you and your family. Please know that you aren't alone, and we are here for you.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 and speaking with one of our dementia advisers. They can listen to your situation in more detail, and give specific advice and support. More details about the support line (including Christmas opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also find it useful to speak to other people who are going through similar situations in our online community, Talking Point. Here, carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences and offer support and advice. You can read more about the community, or register for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps, Sarah. Please do call our support line.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I’m dreading Christmas after all the shopping so tired.Now we’ve been asked to my sons in-laws very kind but I don’t know how long we’ll stay,also my husbands eating is poor so I’ll tell the person cooking to give him very small potion.It’s so awful because he doesn’t know who we are just that we’re familiar just have to see how we go.

Hi there Sylvia, thanks for getting in touch.

It sounds like you could benefit from talking with others affected by dementia. Within our online community, carers, family members and people living with dementia can share their experiences, offer advice and support. Talking Point is free to use, and open day or night - you can simply browse the community, or sign up to join the conversation: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

You may also find it helpful to speak with a dementia adviser. If you call 0333 150 3456, they will listen to your situation, then provide you with dementia information, advice and support. More details about the support line (including opening hours over the Christmas period) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We really hope this is helps for now, Sylvia. Please do speak to someone if you're in need of support - you are not alone.

Alzheimer’s Society blog team

My hubby of 39 years has had Frontemporal Lobe Dementia for going on 9 years now. I am only 58, he 63, so sad.😭HIS decline has been fast the past few months. I go to the home he is in daily to care for him since staff is short due to Covid. It is so draining, yet I take time to snuggle in beside him at the end of the day! I try to turn on a Christmas movie and just be still!💜 He will sleep, then wake and call out my name to see if I am still there...when he feels me, he will lay back down and close his eyes! A small grin here and there is a gift from Heaven for Christmas, perhaps my last. God Bless You All on Your Journey, Hugs Pat ☃️❄️🎄💜🙏

This is so accurate.
My mother in law has invited my dad to join us for Christmas Day at her house, which is a lovely thing to do but he can become really distressed by the unfamiliar such as not knowing where the toilet is and what the rules are in a strange environment that it wouldn’t be at all relaxing for him. Instead we are going to plate him up a dinner and I will take it to him late afternoon. We can spend several hours in his environment where he feels secure, surrounded by familiar things and watch a Christmas movie together or sing some carols and look through some old photo albums. 💙💚💙

My 70 year old mum is now living with me as she was being neglected by her partner. My mum has dementia, I’ve seen a decline in the past few months and I have found this information Very helpful

IM A 50YR OLD CARER TO MY WIFE OF 21 YRS HAPPILY MARRIED.DEMENTIA OF 4YRS .PRAISE,FOR EVERY LITTLE THING SHE DOES.CUDDLES AND KISSES.LET HER WATCH PROGRAMES SHE INJOYS .MY WIFES FAVOURITE IS CALL THE MIDWIFE WHICH SHE WATCHES BACK TO BACK.AS MY WIFE USED TO BE A NURSE WHICH ALSO TAKES HER BACK TO THE 60S.HOW THINGS USED TO BE.ALSO PANTOMINES AND SHOWS.ALSO GROUPS.ETC

I quote an old Cockney friend when he lost his wife

“It’s not wot you want but wot you’ve got, so stick a geranium in yer ‘at and be ‘appy .”

I am 77year old my wife is in a home for 3years this year is hard to believe the years just fly by she is well looked after the staff are very helpful merry Christmas to all and a happy new year cheers

Merry Christmas to you too Jimmy. Your comment is so beautiful. Sending best wishes.

Thank You because mum died on the 4th and was buried on the 8th last year we all sat around the table with dad shocked traumatised and stunned. I hope this year is different. I will try my best.

All of these comments are so accurate. We do not know if they hear or understand you so just showing love and gentle feelings are everything. I did this for my dearest friend yesterday and the hurt is hard to take. We will not have another chance💕💕💕

Modern decorations can bet confusing for someone with dementia. Pay particular attention to lighting. Changing Flashing lights can be confusing for some people even if they don't suffer from dementia.

When it comes to the decorations of Christmas it always make us so energetic and motivated to decorate Christmas along with Christmas tree lots of different things of arrangement of Christmas.

when a loved one is lost few weeks before xmas, its never the same
afterwards, make the most of your time together its more precious than any money can buy.

Above all enjoy the time you spend with your loved ones and go with what they want to do. You never know if you will get another one together but the memories you create will stay with you long after they are gone and trust me those memories are so precious.

The ideas around the life story work are great, however there are a couple of points that I think are worth noting. Firstly the need for carers not to ask questions such as "Do you know who this is?" Instead say something like "Oh look, here's your daughter Sue at the beach" You can then have a rich conversation about beach holidays, sand castles, swimming in the sea, fish and chips etc. Further along a person's journey with dementia life story work will need to be adapted from the personal to themes, and from there to the more sensory elements.

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