Over the past five years, Caryl and her family's lives have changed dramatically, caring for three loved ones, each having dementia-related issues. Caryl shares her experience of caring for family members with dementia during Christmas.
Five years ago, my mum, Lilian, and her elder sister, Mary, were clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, mum was also diagnosed with Vascular Dementia. One year later, mum’s twin brother, Ernest, was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
It was necessary for me to leave my full-time job - a blow for me. I enjoyed my job, friendly relationships with my colleagues and, of course, my salary helped pay the bills. Our loved ones needed full-time care, and the prospect of moving them to a care home wasn't on the agenda for me.
Sadly, mum passed away in October last year. Christmas 2017 without mum was fraught, sad, tearful, there was another empty chair at our table. I know we’ll have the same emotions this year without mum.
Keeping involved and active during Christmas
We involve our Golden Oldies throughout the festive season (all year round, in fact) - they feel very much part of the family despite their dementia battles, and, regardless of their dementia, they are still loved.
We think that it's important to include them in as much activity as possible so that they are contributing to family life and they know their 'help' is appreciated.
We try to make every Christmas and New Year the same as the last, which, due to their progressive memory complexities, can be a little difficult and upsetting for us.
The three of them help out, preparing food in the kitchen, setting the table with my daughters, putting out the brightly-coloured crackers and table decorations. Laying the table is not always right, at least one place setting will have lots of forks and spoons but not a knife - it doesn't matter.
Whilst dinner is being prepared and weather permitting, our uncle takes the dogs for a walk with my husband and sons-in-law. Uncle enjoys spending time with the dogs, and joins us on regular walks with them or takes the dogs into the garden on his own to throw balls for them.
We have a wonderful Christmas Day, it's magical for our Golden Oldies and the rest of the family.
Capturing Christmas memories
We make some very special memories, all captured on video / photographs. Well after Christmas is over, we look at the photographs and watch the videos, we talk about it and we reminisce.
It helps them remember, and even if they can't remember, they still laugh and smile, know we've all had a good time, and know that they're loved very much.
It’s also important to us to try as much as possible to ensure the three of them retain some every day routine skills, ie. making a cup of tea, a sandwich, albeit supervised. We want them to do as much as they can for as long as they can, we know there will be a time when they won’t be able to accomplish these small tasks, a time when dementia will make them totally dependent upon us, a time when our family will all have to become stronger.
An emotional time
I think it's much harder for the family members seeing their loved ones slowly decline with dementia-related diseases. It's frightening, frustrating, and worrying for the person with dementia at the onset of diagnosis, but as the disease progresses and the 'books have fallen from the top shelves' to the point that your loved ones forget family names and are 'living' in much earlier eras, re-living their earlier lives, it is then increasingly more stressful and upsetting for the family.
The family faces a spectrum of emotions – fear, worry, tears, and extreme sadness that there is nothing they can do to get their mum ‘back’ even for just one more Christmas Day.
Festive seasons, birthdays, outings, etc, are days, not just for celebration, but days to try and forget about dementia and make special memories.
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 7 ways you can support people with dementia at Christmas.