Dr Ruth Watson is an Associate Practitioner with Dementia Carers Count. Dr Watson is a Clinical Psychologist who completed her doctorate in 2004, she also works as a Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist within NHS Older Adult Mental Health services. She provides regular consultation to staff working on mental health wards, and Dementia liaison teams, regarding management of behavioural and psychosocial symptoms of dementia.
This time of year often comes with the excitement and expectation to have a great time, but if you’re taking care of a friend or family member with dementia it can feel like additional pressure on your already heavy shoulders. Here are some tips to help navigate when you’re not feeling it in the festive season.
- Take the Pressure off
There are adverts wherever you turn for the ‘perfect’ holiday celebration which makes us feel like our own holiday needs to look a certain way to be good enough. Remember that these adverts are designed to make us feel this way (to spend more money). Try not to compare yourself to those images you see on social media or the TV – the only thing that matters is to spend time with the people you love. Focus on making you and your loved ones as happy and comfortable as possible, rather than trying to make everything perfect.
- Be Prepared to Adapt
Your family get together might be very different this year – your loved one might be distressed by the noise/lights/disruption in routine. It may be overwhelming for them to have lots of visitors and to be handed presents and cards. The Alzheimer’s society has some great information about how to make this time of year more dementia friendly.
- Say No
Often the festive season comes with a rush or need to catch up with people we haven’t seen during the year. This leads to additional requests to visit friends and family, often when you are already feeling frazzled. Think about whether you have the energy or time to see these people. Be selfish and think about what you need. Will it be too much for your loved one, or for you? If so, politely decline and suggest meeting up in the new year.
- Get outside
The winter weather often deters us from getting outside, but even a quick walk in the fresh air can help ground us and reduce our stress levels. If you can make that walk somewhere green even better, 20 minutes in nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve wellbeing.
- Take shortcuts
Do you have to make everything from scratch or can you buy ready-made? Did Aunt Jane offer to bring the crackers and wine? Take people up on their offers of help, and ask others to pitch in where they can. Do you need to buy gifts for everyone or can you do secret Santa for one person in the family? Make life as easy as possible for yourself.
- Recharge when you can
It’s harder than usual to make time for yourself in the midst of holiday chaos, but grab it when you can. This might be having a bath, watching a film that you enjoy, or having a cup of tea in a room away from everyone else.
- Family politics
It is our nearest and dearest (aka family members) who most frequently trigger strong emotional reactions from us. Combine this with alcohol, stress and fatigue and you have a recipe for potential arguments. Although it might be tempting to say how you feel in the heat of the moment, think about whether now is the best time to offload, or can you wait until a calmer day? If it’s something important that you want to resolve, you are more likely to be heard (and end up with a better outcome) if the discussion is less emotionally-charged. You could also politely suggest that they attend one of our courses if you feel they would benefit from learning more about dementia and what you might be going through.
- It’s ok to avoid it
Life might be really tough at the moment, and it’s ok to feel like you can’t share in the joy of the festive season. But remember that you’re not alone. Make contact with other family carers who may be feeling exactly the same as you. If you are dreading celebrating this year, look into whether there are places you and your loved one can go for the winter break.
This time of year can also bring up lots of difficult feelings and memories. If you need to talk, the following helplines are open throughout the festive period:
Samaritans National Helpline: 116 123 – free to call
Open: 24 hours a day, every day of the year (including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
The Silverline National Helpline: 0800 4 70 80 90
Open: 24 hours a day as usual (including Christmas)
SANEline Helpline: 0300 304 7000
Open: Every day of the year (including Christmas) 4:30pm – 10:30pm