Anita on her sofa at home

Anita's story: I've been making new Christmas traditions since my dementia diagnosis

Anita Goundry’s life has changed a lot since she was diagnosed with dementia in her early 50s. She’s had to adapt to new ways of doing things, even replacing old Christmas traditions with new ones.

Content warning – mentions suicidal feelings. If you need support you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123.

Anita was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia when she was 50. However, she started to notice symptoms of dementia as early as 2013, when she was only 45 years old.

Christmas traditions before dementia diagnosis

Following in her German mother’s footsteps, Anita would follow the tradition of having Saint Nicholas Day kicking off the season’s festivities...

Pre-diagnosis, my Christmas started on 6 December. We’d put the tree up, decorate it, and make homemade decorations and wreaths. 

‘That was the start of Christmas for us. I’d do a full Christmas dinner, we’d put our shoes outside, and we’d ask for St Nicholas to leave us a present.

Anita standing by a window in a Christmas hat while holding a reindeer decoration

‘If we’d been good, we’d get something nice, if we’d been bad, we’d get a lump of coal. And I would have up to 12 people at that dinner.’

Looking back at a typical Christmas Day

‘On Christmas Day the kids came to me and I’d have between six and 20 people. I’d do the full meal, and it was an absolute blowout.

'I’d start at about 7am in the morning, they’d all turn up about 10am. There would usually be breakfast laid on for them.

And then it would be presents and games and chat and a few drinks flowing. The fires were going...I had a wood-burning stove and an open fireplace.

Accepting a different kind of Christmas after dementia diagnosis

Life has changed for Anita since she was diagnosed

‘I’ve moved out of the family home; I’ve got a bungalow now. I’ve got a new relationship, and we got married in September.

Christmas also looks different for Anita; she now spends it with her partner and two kids.

I can’t make the big dinner on my own anymore, so, everybody chips in and helps. 

‘I forget to turn the oven on, I forget to turn the oven off. I forget that things are hot. So, I’ve got to be supervised. 

‘Christmas has become much quieter. I can’t deal with too many people, I can’t follow conversations.

'I can follow a conversation if there’s four of us. Any more than that and I sit quietly because I’m lost as to what everybody’s saying.

‘I used to love it, I used to absolutely love it. Now it’s just, “Oh my God, how am I going to cope with this?”’

Christmas is different now, but Anita says that it can still be fun.  

I tried to put brandy sauce on the turkey. So there’s a bit of mickey-taking from the family - it lightens the fact that I forget what went with what.

Anita knitting while sat with a dog

Finding support with Alzheimer’s Society

Alzheimer’s Society’s support has been so valuable for Anita; she even has the Dementia Support Line on her speed dial.

‘I ring them, I get through to an adviser straight away. They talk to me, they calm me down, they find the problem out. It’s different people each time, and every one of them has been absolutely spot on.

‘The first time that I rang them, I’d worked out how I was going to commit suicide, everything, and I just saw the leaflet on the table, saw the number, and I rang it. 

'The adviser answered and said, “Hello, can I help?” And I said I had Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

She said, “How can I help?” And I just poured out my heart. 

‘She was so amazing: she got me a support worker, she got me onto the memory clinic, and I had the full support of a mental health team and a social worker.

'Alzheimer’s Society themselves were ringing me every morning and evening.

‘They were ringing me twice a day, every day, then it went down to once a day, every day. And if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

‘That service is so important. You need somebody outside the family, somebody who you can say exactly how you feel to and exactly what you’re thinking to. You can’t always tell your family that you’re suicidal. 

You can’t tell your family that you’ve lost so much of you and you’re spiralling out of control. You need that outside person. 

‘And without them there would be more suicides because they stabilise you and they get you the help that you need.

'It’s an outside ear that is informed, caring, and absolutely practical.

‘They’re so supportive. I don’t know what I’d do without them.’ 

Dementia can be and is devastating, and Christmas may bring further challenges for people like Anita. 

Alzheimer’s Society is here to provide understanding and expert advice to support people through the festive season.

Will you answer a cry for help this Christmas?

To support someone like Anita living with dementia this Christmas, please donate to Alzheimer’s Society’s Christmas Appeal.

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