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20th December 2018

Is it The Season to be Jolly? Christmas in Dementia Care Homes


It’s that time of year. Festive preparations are well under way and I can feel my stress levels rising already! There’s so much to do to make Christmas special for our families and friends, but what about our other ‘families’, the ones we care for at work? Christmas in a care home is a very important event on the care home calendar. There are more people with dementia in care homes than ever before, spending what is traditionally a family celebration away from their loved ones.

Christmas can be an emotional time. It’s not uncommon to have feelings of sadness and loss at this time of year, perhaps remembering Christmas spent with loved ones who have now passed away or missing family who live long distances away. Residents with dementia may not be able to express these feelings verbally but you may recognise that they are low in mood, more reclusive and unwilling to join in activities, or they may become increasingly unsettled or agitated.

We all celebrate Christmas in different ways and have our own family traditions, however crazy they may seem to others. It is important to know how a person with dementia used to spend their Christmas, so you can replicate family traditions as much as possible. It’s stressful to be forced to go to a party with loud music and party poppers when what you would really enjoy is putting your feet up in front of the TV with a box of chocolates or a glass of Baileys. Memories of Christmas from childhood and young adulthood are often more comforting than modern celebrations.  Watching an old Christmas Movie, listening to a favourite song or just reminiscing about Christmas gone by are comforting activities for those with dementia.

Beware of over stimulating residents with dementia. You know what it’s like when you have a house full of children with the TV on, people talking and musical toys chirping in the background. You suddenly feel like your head is going to explode! This is amplified for those with dementia who have less tolerance to noise competition and can quickly become overwhelmed by concerts and party games. Although they may appear to be having a great time, becoming over stimulated can store up problems for later in the day such as increased agitation and unsettled behaviour.

Of course, some residents won’t remember it’s Christmas, and it’s important not to keep reminding them all the time as this can just increase anxiety. Everyday routines are important to help people with dementia feel safe and secure and we all know that routines can go out of the window at Christmas as the festivities take over. It doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy Christmas at all but just in small doses and with activities that are meaningful to them and provide comfort.

The companionship and festive activities in care homes can bring a lot of pleasure to our residents and it’s easy to get carried away with the festivities and encourage everyone to “have fun”, but those with dementia may have different needs at this time of year which need to be handled sensitively to ensure that everyone’s Christmas is filled with joy and peace.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Katie Farrar

Occupational Therapist

Katie qualified as an Occupational Therapist in the year 2000. For most of her professional career she has worked in the field of older people’s mental health services within community mental health teams. As part of this she has had extensive involvement with people with dementia and their carers, both in the community and in care home settings. Katie is currently working with the Dementia Pathway Team supporting people with dementia in the care home setting and particularly with advanced care planning for end of life care. She has also recently completed the Mental Health Act Best Interest Assessor Course at Leeds Beckett University. Katie has developed and delivered training to care homes on dementia awareness, managing delirium and managing challenging behaviour. As well, she has supported carers to offer meaningful activities and experiences and provided guidance to care homes on improving environments to become dementia friendly. Read more

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