Helping a person with dementia feel part of festivities if you can’t be with them

Advice about what you can do to support a friend or relative to feel connected on Christmas Day.

Question:

‘My aunt has dementia and, given how pandemic restrictions can change, I’m worried whether we’ll be together on Christmas Day. If we aren’t, how could we help her feel connected?’ 

Answer:

Given last year’s changes to lockdown restrictions – and the ongoing occasional need for people to self-isolate – some uncertainty about the festive season is understandable. Hopefully we’ll be able to share Christmas and other special days in person with those we want to be with. 

If that’s not possible, there are things that might help a relative or friend with dementia to feel part of festivities even though you’re not in the same place.

Wearing reindeer headgear while on a video call

Sights and sounds 

In addition to planning presents and food, making sure your aunt’s home is decorated for Christmas may help her to enjoy the season. This could include photos of family members and friends from past Christmases. Consider which photos carefully, as some might bring up difficult or painful memories. 

Radio, television and online media can also create a festive atmosphere.

To avoid your aunt having to find them at the time, you could preset a radio to her favourite station that plays Christmas music or send her links to TV programmes or videos she can watch online.

Keeping in touch 

Video calls could be a great way for your aunt to stay connected in the run up to Christmas as well as on the day itself. Depending on what she’s comfortable using, this may be over a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. 

Arrange to share important moments – for example, the Queen’s speech, Mass or a TV special – by calling or messaging each other and experiencing them together.

This could be between the two of you, or among a group using an app like WhatsApp or Signal. 

And don’t forget the power of speaking on the telephone. This is still a great way to stay in touch and share events together. 

Preparation 

Some preparation may help a person who isn’t used to a particular device or app. You could show your aunt exactly how to answer or make video calls in advance, or leave simple instructions next to her phone or computer.

There are many online guides that show how to use specific apps – would she find one of these useful? 

Setting things up ahead of time can make a difference. For example, you could create a new account for one of the video calling apps and give her the login details. Your aunt might still need reminders about actually using the app, but this may be easier to do over the phone when needed. 

With a bit of planning, your aunt should be able to join in the festivities at Christmas even if pandemic restrictions change or one of you has to self-isolate. 

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Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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