The Dos and Don'ts of Dementia

21 December 2017

How to accommodate loved-ones with the condition this Christmas 

  • There are currently 850,000 dementia patients in the UK, forecast to rise to one million by 2025
  • New research reveals that half of Brits know of someone affected by the condition
  • This Christmas, thousands of families are preparing for a Christmas that will involve a friend or family member with the condition
  • Bupa has released tips to make Christmas period as smooth as possible for those with loved one with dementia, including a ‘dementia friendly’ Christmas playlist.
Elderly couple taking a selfie at Christmas

With Christmas on the horizon, people across the UK will be preparing to spend Christmas together with loved ones. But for families affected by dementia, a traditional Christmas can be difficult at times.

There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, set to rise to one million by 2025 and two million by 20511 . As such, tens of thousands of Brits will be preparing for a Christmas with someone affected by the condition.

New research released today from Bupa reveals half (52%) of Brits know of someone with dementia.  A third (32%) of people know someone first hand - either a family member or a friend – while a fifth (20%) are connected by two degrees.

Despite the number of people connected to dementia, only 42% of Brits feel they know enough about the condition. What’s more, just a third (35%) of people are aware of the simple changes they can make Christmas easier for those with dementia.

To support someone with dementia and those around them this Christmas, Bupa UK has created a list of tips of how to make Christmas as ‘dementia friendly’ as possible. 

First and foremost it’s about doing what’s best for your loved one.  If they live in a care home, consider whether you’d be better taking Christmas to them. Doing it in a safe environment they recognise can really help and make it less stressful, more enjoyable experience for everyone. If you’re not able to do this, there are still things you can do to make a Christmas at home pleasurable.

If you’re not able to do this, there are still things you can do to make a Christmas at home more manageable.

Vivienne Birch, Director of Quality and Compliance for Bupa Care Homes shares her tips:

1. Opt for a traditional Christmas
Everyone will recognise the classic Christmas items, just be mindful not to go for anything too modern. Opt for traditional, simple decorations. As for Christmas jumpers – wild and wacky designs can be distracting. Consider simpler designs with more neutral colours, which are in keeping with those from previous generations.

2. Keep visits around 2-3 hours
People with dementia can often get unsettled in unfamiliar environments – remember in dementia even once familiar environments can be rendered strange -, so it’s recommended to keep visits to around two – three hours. 

3. Consider smaller gatherings 
Those in big families may wish to split their visits over the Christmas period, going in smaller groups. Noise can be really debilitating for someone with dementia, so small groups will make it easier for your loved one to follow conversations and not get drowned out by the chatter. 

Likewise it’ll limit the distress of not being able to recognise people they know they should, which can be overwhelming in bigger groups, and might lead to people either becoming agitated or withdrawn.

4. Dig out the classic carols
It’s easy to access songs, films and radio series from days gone by. These can be great way of bringing the family together to share in some of the Christmas classics. Don’t be afraid to sit quietly and enjoy the time enjoying the experience together.  

Music triggers emotional memories and can have a relaxing affect on people, and Christmas carols are no exception. Someone’s clearest memories are likely to be from the ages of 15-30, so classic songs work best.  Bupa has also put together a playlist of ‘Dementia Friendly’ Christmas songs, bringing together classic tracks from days gone by. 

5. Use the toilet
On a practical level, people with dementia might not know where the toilet is, so ask them if they want to go to the toilet when they arrive.  Likewise, hang their coat up by the toilet door as a reminder to ask them again before going home. 

6. Presents
Christmas presents can be challenging.  Many older people will struggle with unwrapping items, so ensure they’re loosely wrapped – or even just covered by paper. 

In terms of choosing the present, avoid anything modern and try and pick a gift they’ll really connect with.  An old photograph can sometimes stir pleasant memories, for example.  

7. Keep your cool
If someone’s feeling confused or upset, it’s important that you stay calm to help them feel more secure. 

8. Don’t infantilise someone.
People with dementia might make mistakes, but there’s no reason to treat them like a child. Instead we can adapt – if you’re worried about spills, put a throw over the sofa and have kitchen towel to hand. Or if you’re worried about breakages, use an older glass.  

9. Get people involved
Familiar activities can be comforting, so if your loved one seems ill at ease, then involve them in something like helping lay the table. Rather than asking them to do everything, break it into smaller more manageable jobs that you can do together – like laying the placemats. 

10. Watch out for trip hazards
People with dementia are more susceptible to trips and falls, so – especially at Christmas – make sure you’re mitigating the risks.  Presents or wrapping paper on the floor can be hazards so tidy up more often than you might usually do. Likewise, while the idea of a candle-lit Christmas is romantic, a brightly lit home can reduce the risks of trips and falls too.   


1 Alzheimer’s Society

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