Q Since my mother died last year, my father has been diagnosed with dementia and I’ve moved back home to look after him. Christmas time is always a big family reunion, and I’m wondering, how can I make it special for him?
The wonderful thing about Christmas is that half the work of making it special for your dad has already been done, bound up in its meaning. It’s one of the most evocative times of the year. The Christmas music, the scents and smells, the decorations, the greetings cards and more will release memories and happy feelings from Christmases past, even going back to childhood. Our churches celebrate Christmas well, and if your dad is too frail to attend one of the services he’ll be blessed by those broadcasts on TV and radio.
It’s great that your family is coming for the traditional reunion. Some may be living nearby, and will be familiar with your dad’s condition, but others may be coming from a distance and won’t have seen him recently. It will help if you bring them up to date by email or telephone, and describe the best way of interacting with him. Suggest that they behave warmly towards him, as though seeing him is the best thing that has happened that day!
Our booklet Visiting a Person with Dementia gives more practical tips. It’s important to explain to children that Granddad’s brain isn’t working as normally as it should. In a previous edition of ‘Louise Answers’, we described how to help children understand dementia.
Some helpful tips are – first, make sure that your dad is physically comfortable, and sitting in a position where he can choose to observe and stay quiet, or become involved in the conversation. Then, keep an eye on him; with a larger gathering than he is used to he may experience a sensory overload, so be prepared to take him to his room to rest for a while. If it’s a sit-down Christmas dinner, make sure the tablecloth is colourful to give contrast with the white plates. Perhaps discreetly cut up the meal if this helps him.
Now is a good time for reminiscence! Compile a range of family photographs and have a family member go through them with him, but without asking, ‘do you remember?’. A good, Christmassy activity for the whole family would be to go through Brain and Soul Boosting at Christmas Time together. Take the lead (as you are the closest to your dad), and off you go! It’s fun, it will bless him, and it helps strengthen faith and relationships. Happy Christmas!
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