In this Christmas episode of The Dementia Podcast, Talking Dementia: Festive tips for celebrations, Colm is joined by author and dementia champion, Agnes Houston and Dementia Consultants, Colleen McDonald and Ashley Roberts to share their experience of how to make your holiday event fun for everyone in the family.
Colm speaks with Agnes about the sensory impacts of dementia on the person, and what to consider when including a person with dementia at busy and often noisy occasions. Colleen shares her thoughts on how to plan and present the festive feast so the person with dementia can take part. While Colm and Ashley focus on the importance of looking after yourself at this busy time, taking a break, and sharing the caring role with others.
Access Agnes’ book as a free download or audiobook here “Talking Sense”
Wishing you a Merry Christmas from The Podcast Team
Hello and welcome to the Dementia Podcast. I'm your host Colm Cunningham and it is great to have you join us on this festive edition. I'm going to be joined by friends and colleagues from across the world as they provide their advice and guidance on things that we should think about in this festive season, and how we support people with dementia, and carers. Now, these podcasts are being recorded over a number of days and from different locations so you will notice a little bit of a change in the audio. Christmas is a time when all of us have roles if we come together as family. So for the person with dementia joining in the family activities, they may have been the person who was the key cook or the maker of the stuffing on all these other roles that we all know we have, who makes the punch, all of that sort of stuff. So what is the role of a person with dementia during this time in how hard it may feel to not have the same role and be involved in the same way. So our first tip is to think about the importance of involving the person with dementia in the activities around them, but at a pace, and in a way that works for them. Our second tip for a dementia friendly Christmas is to think about the impact of noise and the importance of a quiet space. Christmas is a time where many people are gathered together. And it can often be noisy, and people in a small, busy space. And for a person living with dementia, there can be competing noises from many different sources think about the TV, Christmas music, all of the bluster that's coming from the kitchen, and everybody arriving doorbells, you can think that there are so many noises going on, our advice in this instance is to try and think about how together you can reduce noise levels. And think about what's happening for the person with dementia. So thinking about having one source of music or television at a time, said thinking about perhaps having a space that if a person is needing to retreat from the business while all the guests are arriving, they can do so without feeling excluded. And also to understand that there are some real things that can be going on for the person. We know that research is showing that people can actually find some pitches actually painful. So when you see somebody getting up and wanting to walk away, don't think, oh, that person's wanting to wander, that is often said, they actually might be trying to get out of something that's just darn uncomfortable and overwhelming. Now to help us think about that in more detail. I'm joined by Agnes Houston, who's written "Talking Sense", a book that thinks about the sensory impacts of dementia on the person. Agnes, we know that Christmas can be a wonderful time of gathering, but it is busy. Are there any thoughts you have and how to manage in these times, particularly around thinking about noise?Agnes Houston:
I think it's the sensory overload. And you know, and albeit picking up in the sense of noise, but it can impact in all your senses, as you know, and there'll be one in particular that could trigger one thing and then it leads on to another to another to another. So if I was planning to have all my family were coming to my home at Christmas, which used to happen many years in the past with the knowledge I have now I would be thinking very carefully and planning before the event took place. And looking at where would I be positioning my dad at the table in the middle would not be a good idea because you're getting too much clutter and what have you at the end of the table would be better? Who would buddy up with him? Who isn't the noisiest party goer you know, and give that person some tips so that they could make it a best experience for my dad for instance. Thank you Merry Christmas, everybody byeColm Cunningham:
Agnes thank you so much for quite a number of tips that we need to be thinking about and you can access Agnes' book and even more tips and ideas in a free download of"Talking Sense", including in an audiobook version. So visit dementiacentre.com But as always, we'll put a link in our show notes. Drawing on another of our books, "My Home My Life", our next tips are about the pace of communication and listening. It's important to think about the various Ways that we need to help somebody with dementia take in the information, and be aware of what's happening around them. So speaking more slowly, and being patient can often be important. The temptation to repeat ourselves can often end up backing up information that the person's not already had time to process in the brain. So pausing is important, and clearly smiling. And being in front of the person, making sure that they can see and hear us, is all important as we try to help and aid good communication. It's also important to think about what might help the conversation keep going. So at Christmas, you've got a wealth of gifts and presents that can be part of the conversation. But you can't beat things like those photo albums, or old movies, all of which can encourage us to drawing memories to remember things of the past, and to help have those conversations, but also to make the person feel in control, and be able to be part of the conversation. Now, tradition is so important in all cultures, and that this festive period, it's important to think about traditions, and the role the person with dementia has played. Were they the chief cook? Are they the person that provides a toast? Do they carve the turkey, all of those things are important to reflect on. I know, for example, that I really liked being part of the cooking experience, I'll often have the tea towel over my shoulder. And working on the gravy, I certainly don't like anybody else to touch the wooden spoon that's in the pot. But we all have the things that are important for us to be taking part in. So how do we facilitate and support that? It's also important to think about not doing too many things. So the pace of things is also really important. Now, the importance of contrast is probably not something we consider in relation to the Christmas table. But it can be a really important tool. And as we hear from Colleen, there's some great advice and tips about making sure that people can see and sense what's going on. Colleen is one of our Senior Dementia Consultants at the Dementia Centre with years of experience in providing HammondCare's, cottage model of care with small domestic kitchens and fresh cooked food as part of that cottage experience. Colleen, what are your tips on that most important part of any festival, the food, from your experience, how should we plan and present food in a way that helps a person with dementia be part of that dining experience?Colleen McDonald:
So we like to make meals and preparation of meals a social time between carers and families and residents. And we want to make it a successful experience. So we need to think about things such as how a table is set up, we need to look at things like colors. To allow for that contrast between table and plate, we need to make it as best as possible that the the person eating that meal is going to succeed at that. So they may not be able to use a knife and fork anymore. So we would then offer finger foods or have meals pre cut up. So it's easy. We would look at different colors and the plating of the meal, looking that there is separation between meats, vegetables, that type of thing. And looking at the softness and the texture is that person able to chew and to make it a nice and enjoyable experience.Colm Cunningham:
And I think it's a really important point you've made about finger foods. I can't tell you the amount of times where somebody said that somebody is no longer able to use cutlery and realizing that the cutlery on the plate is one thing on the table. Sorry, is one thing, but then putting the fork in somebody's hand and suddenly that triggers that memory. So you're right, we have to think about all of the elements of this from the light to the contrast to the noise around. There's so many things I'm sure you've had to think about the problems all over the years for people. Thanks, Colleen. When we think about sating, it's really important to make sure that the person is seated in the best seat for them to feel in control and safe. If you sit the person with their back to the door that everything is coming in from or where noise and activity as people arrive is happening. It could actually scare or make the person feel unsettled. Because they may not know to turn around and see what's going on. Or frankly there may be just too much going on. So sitting the person that they can actually see people coming in and out is probably going to make them feel a bit more settled. Even more so sitting next to somebody who's got some time to help them engage and follow what's going on can be important. A very simple thing is now, we don't want the dinner table to be too busy with too many pieces of cutlery for the person. But it may well be that sitting next to somebody who, as they pick up their fork is going to cue that person to engage in the next stage of the meal may really help them. Now all of these suggestions from our guests are about ensuring that the person with dementia is able to be in control, able to be engaged and supported. Throughout the year carers support people living with dementia and Christmas brings many additional challenges. Again, this year, we have the issues of pandemic, but we also may well have everything from preparing the Christmas meal to all the visitors who may be joining us. And this may add extra burden, particularly at a time when services may be less like they and support community services who might not be there between the Christmas and New Year period. So it's very important that we think about how we support carers through the fatigue and additional responsibilities and how we can help them. I'm joined by Ashley Roberts, one of our Dementia Consultants here at the Dementia Centre. Ashley, we've focused on some of the things we need to do to support somebody with dementia. But we equally need to think about the support we can provide to carers. And I imagine some timeout space is equally as important for them.Ashley Roberts:
Absolutely. I think I think a chill out space for both for anyone really, I think I think firstly, yes, for the the person or people living with dementia at this event is great to have at somewhere they can go. But I think the care for people that are managing it Christmas Day is a long day because people are up very early. The expectation is you don't go to bed until way into the evening after you've done all these traditions or whatever it is that you've got going on. So you can it can be a long day, it can be 16 hour day or something at least and you everyone will need to take breaks if you know your because if I'm always really conscious, if I'm stressed, I'm going to make other people stressed and Christmas items with enough stresses already. So to have a space that's available for people living with dementia that are attending, but also for carers as well, or at least having an outlet for the carer, or whoever is primary carer or carers as well to be able to go out. And everybody. I always say the same thing. Everybody share the load, you know, and be able to, you know, if everybody can all do their bit, especially at Christmas, then it will make the day a lot more enjoyable. I guess my advice would be to try, try to really step back and try to I think I think the most important thing is to decide what's important. What do we want to achieve out of this Christmas? What do we want? And I think it's about prioritizing. Is it just because we do we all just want to be together, open a few gifts, drink a couple of glasses or something nice. And you know, have a bit of Nat King Cole on and we're happy. You know, I think it's about expectations. I think if you really if you get your expectations right, you you will have a great, really great time because things would have I imagine that things for people would have changed. And it's about adapting and and thinking of what's realistic.Colm Cunningham:
Thank you, Ashley, and of course to Colleen and to Agnes for taking part. I learned so much from these conversations, and I hope that you do too. This edition of the Dementia Podcast has focused around the festival of Christmas. But these tips apply to Hanukkah, Eid and to all important gatherings and events. So we hope that you can use these tips to plan your next event. Well, like many at this time, the Dementia Podcast team will be having a well earned break and rejoining you on the 20th of January 2022. Thank you so much to the fantastic team that make this all possible. They have already an amazing plan for shows in 2022 but as always, they love your tips and ideas. So please do email us on firstname.lastname@example.org And for the last time in 2021 Bye for now