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Christmas tips from one of our Admiral Nurses

One of our dementia specialist Admiral Nurses has shared her tips for helping families caring for a loved one with dementia this Christmas.

Laura Birch, who works at Dementia Resource Community in partnership with Dementia UK, the specialist nurse charity, has been talking about ways to reduce anxiety and distress at this busy time of the year.

Laura, 27, who covers the Macclesfield, Wilmslow and Knutsford areas of Cheshire, works alongside the Adults Memory Team at the Jocelyn Solly Resource Centre in Macclesfield.

She said: “Christmas is a joyous occasion, often reuniting family members, far and wide, to enjoy the festive occasion. For someone living with dementia, Christmas can be a wonderful time, but it is important to consider ways of reducing anxiety and distress, during this period. 

“Someone living with dementia may prefer a quieter occasion, which may mean Christmas looks a little different to what it used to.

“This may include letting them celebrate Christmas in their own home, and not travelling long distances to visit family if this would cause them distress. This may vary from person to person.

“If it is a busy household, it’s a good idea to give someone with dementia some space, some quiet time, such as after the meal. Allowing them to go to their room for a rest is ok.

“Consider your Christmas decorations and whether they might be a little overstimulating. We can all get carried away with festive décor, from bright flashing lights to Christmas trees and tinsel. 

“Have you considered if your home is dementia friendly during this occasion? Some people may find the flashing lights over stimulating, causing them further distress. 

“This may also be interpreted differently, for example, if someone has visual hallucinations, the decorations may appear as something else. If anxiety occurs because of mobility, consider the decorations, and if they pose a trip hazard.

“It’s a good idea to involve your loved one and to consider what their strengths may be. For example, they may feel able to put baubles on the tree, to help with some Christmas baking, or enjoy some Christmas carol singing. 

“This will help them to feel involved, and meaningful, helping them make the most of the Christmas occasion. It is also a good time to integrate the benefits of music, as this can often reduce distress, anxiety and agitation for someone living with dementia. Playing Christmas songs and carols can help to bring back all sorts of memories.

“Remember, it may not be perfect, but it is important to embrace the positives, and not to overdo it. It is important to be kind to yourself, and to get a break where you can.

“For those with dementia, long-term memories can remain longer than short-term memoriesand they often return to previous occasions, including their past Christmas memories.

“At this time of year, I like to encourage families to introduce reminiscence activities to reduce anxiety and promote good tidings.”

Admiral Nurses are continually supported and developed by Dementia UK to provide life-changing support for families affected by all forms of dementia.

If you need advice or support on living with dementia, contact Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 or email helpline@dementiauk.org.