Christmas can be overwhelming for many of us, with the hectic period of shopping, cooking and family gatherings putting a strain on relationships. But when someone in your family has dementia, it brings different challenges that are very easy to overlook writes Gina Awad.
Understanding dementia is crucial for the person living with it, but very often families and care partners learn by default. As a Dementia Campaigner, I would like to share some insights to help you and your family enjoy the festive season.
I work closely with people with dementia and their families, some of whom have kindly shared their experiences and useful tips to illustrate how people manage and adapt their individual circumstances at Christmas time.
Sara Carless is married to Barrie, who has been living with mixed dementia since 2013.
“Barrie has always got very excited about Christmas and used to want to start planning six months ahead,” said Sara. “I have found since his diagnosis it is very easy for me to gallop ahead with gift buying and food ordering and leave him out.
“I ensure I consider him as much as possible so he feels included. I am also aware how isolating dementia can be and that Barrie may seem to be ok at times when inside he may not be.”
Jo Earlam shared insights from her experiences in a family living with dementia, first as a granddaughter, then as a daughter and now a wife to people affected by the condition. At Christmas, she is acutely aware of the changes she has seen in her father and now in her husband, John.
“Large gatherings and the noise levels can be overwhelming,” said Jo. “Both my dad and husband used to take an active interest in the preparations, but this changed.
“John used to help with the tree and lights, and look forward to entertaining but no longer has interest in this, which, of course, is no fault of his own. I am having to be adaptable to this, but at times it can be sad, lonely and hard to remain enthusiastic.”
If someone in your family is living with dementia, here are some useful tips to consider in the lead up to the festive season:
Have reasonable expectations of what is attainable timewise for you and the person living with dementia;
Communicate essential changes with family and friends, so they feel included and understand what’s going on;
Ask for support – a little respite from family and friends can be invaluable so you can enjoy the season too;
Create an accessible quiet space for the person with dementia, in case they need some time out;
Ask family and friends to spend a little one-to-one time with the person who has dementia. They often value and benefit from gifts of company more than material gifts.
Remember, you are not alone. According to official estimates, there are approximately 406,000 people living with dementia across the South West.
At Christmas time, consideration, compassion and simplicity is paramount. Empathy is fundamental when considering people living with dementia, but as a partner in care it is equally important to take time out for you, not just at Christmas but all year round.
Gina has spent the past three years inspiring Exeter to become a Dementia Friendly Community. She achieved Dementia Champion of the Year 2016 at the Alzheimer’s Society National Dementia Friendly awards last year for her dedication and commitment to people living with dementia and their families.
• Gina Awad BSc (Hons) Health & Soc Care
• Exeter Dementia Action Alliance Lead
• Dementia Friends Champion of the Year 2016
• City Ambassador Pride Of Exeter 2015
Follow me: @awad_gina