Christmas the most isolating time of year for people with dementia

Alzheimer’s Society provides guidance to support people during the festive season.

New research by Alzheimer’s Society has uncovered that over half of people affected by dementia (51%) find Christmas to be the most isolating time of the year, with many stating they are dreading the festivities. 54% of those surveyed said they see their friends and family less often over the Christmas period than they did before their dementia diagnosis.

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Living with dementia can be very challenging - but around this time of year the difficulties people face and the emotions they experience are often heightened, with 49% of those surveyed reporting that the change in their usual routine is stressful. Other issues include:

· Nearly four in ten (39%) people found shopping for Christmas presents has become challenging because shops are too busy, and a shocking 98% feel that shops are not good at supporting people with dementia at Christmas 

· 38% felt the extra noise associated with the excitement of the festive season can be frightening or stressful

· Just under a third (31%) of people found preparing Christmas dinner more challenging

· 22% said decorations such as Christmas lights and trees can be irritating and confusing

Despite the challenges, people affected by dementia have told Alzheimer’s Society that there are things that will make their Christmas a more enjoyable experience. This includes seeing friends and family more frequently and keeping to their daily routine as much as possible, such as set meal times. Sharing experiences and talking to others in a similar situation were also cited as important to having the best possible Christmas*.

To support families affected by dementia this time of year, Alzheimer’s Society has created an infographic -www.alzheimers.org.uk/supportatchristmas - with guidance including introducing Christmas decorations gradually, over the course of a few days or even a week, so that it doesn’t come as a big change to the person’s usual setting. Spreading out family visits and designating one room in the house a ‘quiet room’ where the person with dementia can relax without loud noise is also recommended.

Alzheimer’s Society also provides a range of services to enable people to have the best possible experience over the festive season. People affected by dementia told the charity that sharing experiences would help and Talking Point, the charity’s online discussion forum, is a place where people affected by dementia can ask for advice, share information, join in discussions and feel supported.

People with dementia also told us that shops are not good at supporting them, particularly at Christmas. Alzheimer’s Society is working with major retailers so that staff can learn about dementia and the steps they can take to make a difference. Sainsbury’s, Argos, Barclays, Homebase, Lloyds and M&S are just some of the companies that are working to become dementia friendly**.

Kathryn Smith, Director of Operations at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'While for many this time of year is full of excitement, we must not forget that dementia doesn’t stop at Christmas and feelings such as isolation and confusion can be intensified during this time of year.

'Alzheimer’s Society is here to support people affected by dementia to cope in the lead up to Christmas. From not overloading the dinner plate to allocating a quiet room where people with dementia can find solace during busy times, our guidance on how to support people during the festive season will empower people to make small steps to have a better experience.'

Debbie Granger, 50, from Telford, Shropshire helps her father, Geoff, to care for her mum, Chris, who lives with vascular dementia.

Christmas has changed in a big way since Chris’s diagnosis, but together the family has made adaptions to ensure they can still celebrate the festivities

'The changes caused by Mum’s dementia are particularly noticeable at Christmas. We have found that many people lack empathy and patience for Mum’s condition, and as a result we don’t get invited to Christmas parties anymore or have friends over. It’s sad, but we have learnt to adjust to dementia being part of our Christmas.

'With the advice we were given at the Dementia Cafe we attend, we have put steps in place so Mum and Dad can still enjoy the festivities. We play board games that are designed for people with dementia which help jog memories and reminisce about the past. It’s a new kind of Christmas, and certainly quieter and lower key than past ones, but Mum can still enjoy it and that’s all that matters.'

The festive season doesn’t have to be the loneliest time of the year for people affected by dementia. Alzheimer’s Society is here to help and support and you can donate to help beat dementia in a way to suit you:

  • Donate online
  • Text DONATE to 70660 and donate £3 to help fund vital services

*An Alzheimer’s Society survey of 381 people, made up of people with dementia and their friends, family and carers, ran between 25 October and 1 November 2016.

**The charity has also developed a guide for retailers so that people living with dementia and their carers can take part in their communities for as long as possible.

Image used with permission by Niaz Maleknia.