Christmas can be a hectic time for all of us, and often generates a range of emotions. Some people find it exciting and uplifting, but others – particularly people with dementia and their family carers – may find it overwhelming and exhausting.
With the help of dementia specialist Clinical Lead Admiral Nurse Vic Lyons, we have put together some tips to help you navigate the aftermath of Christmas.
Changes in behaviour over the Christmas period
Often, families spend longer periods of time together over the festive season. For others, Christmas is the main occasion for getting together during the year.
If either of these scenarios is true for your family, it may mean that over Christmas, you became more aware of how the person with dementia has changed since you last saw them or noticed first-hand how much support and help they need.
We always get an increase in calls to our Helpline after Christmas, with many callers talking about the changes they have seen over this period.
Routine can be important for people with dementia, so if daily life has been very different over Christmas, it could have a knock-on effect on their behaviour and dementia symptoms.
If you notice sudden behavioural changes during or after Christmas, consider factors like:
Is the person taking any medication as prescribed?
Are they eating and drinking as normal?
Are they over-stimulated?
Are they in pain?
Could they have an infection?
Could there have been a physical change, for example hearing difficulties?
Write down the changes you have noticed and continue to monitor the person’s behaviour in the days and weeks after Christmas. In some cases, they may improve once everyday life returns to normal, but for others, the changes are caused by the progression of their dementia.
If you notice sudden or acute changes in the person with dementia, seek medical advice. You can also call our Helpline or book an appointment in our virtual clinics to get support from our specialist dementia nurses.
Changes in family dynamics
Relatives may be unaware of all that goes into caring for a loved one with dementia or may have a difference of opinion about how things should be managed. This can sometimes lead to disputes or a change in family dynamics, which may be intensified over Christmas. For example:
Family members may suggest permanent changes in care based on what they see of the person over the festive period, which may make their usual carer feel criticised or unappreciated
The main family carer may feel resentful if other relatives don’t offer help with caring tasks over Christmas
Different family members may take over the role of main carer over the festive period – this could provide welcome respite for their usual family carer, but could also make them feel shut out
Christmas and the end of the year can also be a chance for you and your family to reflect and plan for the next year, considering the things that are going well and things you would like to change. Remember, it is normal for families to have different ideas about how they see things moving forward.
Take time to hear each other’s ideas and discuss them
Consider what was working before Christmas – there is no point changing things that do not need changing
If family dynamics change and you find it difficult to agree about the best interests of the person living with dementia or how they should be cared for, a professional opinion may be helpful. Our dementia specialist Admiral Nurses can support the whole family with coming to an agreement
Dealing with the Christmas ‘hangover’
Not an actual hangover – but the post-Christmas blues that some people feel. January can be a difficult month for many reasons, and it is normal to experience a range of emotions as life returns to normal.
You may feel a bit down, like it was all an anti-climax – this can happen even if it everything went to plan
You may feel tired or be worried about what the next year will bring
You may be concerned about any changes you have seen in the person with dementia and worried about how you can access services and support
You might be worried about your finances and how you are going to manage the cost of living during winter and the year ahead
You may have made New Year’s resolutions about things you would like to change/do yourself
Be kind to yourself by following these steps:
Do not make sudden changes to your lifestyle in response to anything that happened over Christmas
Make sure you have some time to yourself if possible so that you can reflect and think about what you need to do next, if anything
You may want to seek professional advice – this is especially true if you think the January blues might be a sign of depression or anxiety
Speak to people about how you are feeling – you could talk to family and friends, your GP or a counsellor
Call our Helpline – our nurses understand what you are going through and are here to help