Celebrations can be a time of challenge for families with a dementia sufferer among their loved ones. However, they can also be a time to reminisce, which can provide nurturing care. It is difficult to know how to ‘get it right’.
Each New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, we ring in the New Year with our wonderful residents in our North Devon and Somerset care homes. Here are our tips on how to successfully celebrate New Year’s Eve that we’ve learned over the years.
With dementia, the cognitive function becomes clouded and jumbled. However, it is very common for longer-term memory to be more secure than short-term. This is why a loved one with dementia will feel far more confident talking about their experiences growing up than trying to recall what they had for lunch.
When it comes to celebrations, this means that traditions can be immensely reassuring to the individual with dementia. For example, if New Year’s Eve always saw the family sharing a particular meal together, then this will provide familiarity and comfort.
However, New Year’s Eve can be more complex than a date such as Christmas or Easter in this regard. Families tend to have fewer consistent traditions around the New Year. However, if there is an element of New Year’s tradition in your family, then try to incorporate that this year. It may be as simple as having Jules Hollands’ Annual Hootenanny showing on the TV.
There are also traditions which you may need to be more wary of. For example, New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for fireworks to accompany midnight revelry. However, the loud bangs of fireworks can be disorientating and fear-inducing for those with dementia. We strongly recommend avoiding exposing your loved one to them.
Alcohol is also often a prominent feature of New Year celebrations. Alcohol is a depressant and will worsen cognitive impairment. If an alcoholic tipple features highly in the traditions of your relative then consider creating a non-alcoholic alternative.
Of course, New Year’s Eve, by its nature, is about looking forwards. We’re embracing 2020 and the year ahead.
This can also pose difficulties for families with a loved one with dementia. It can be hard to look forward with positivity. However, we encourage you to still embrace the forward-looking element of this annual celebration.
The easiest way to do this is to simply talk. Talk about the upcoming date and what it means for other members of the family. Find out first-hand what traditions are important to them. Keep things calm, don’t overwhelm with a large number of visitors, but do chat about what is important to them.
Another way to include your loved one is to watch a film together, listen to favourite music or share a much-loved poem or verse. You may also like to look through old photos of previous New Year celebrations together.
In our care homes, we do celebrate annual events such as Christmas and New Year. However, we do it in thoughtfully careful ways which serve the needs and wellbeing of our residents. If your family member is in a care home, you can therefore rest assured that they will not ‘miss out’ should you choose to celebrate separately.
This is particularly important when we consider the aspect of routine at New Year. Routine provides reassurance and security to someone with dementia. New Year’s Eve can be the hardest annual celebration to mark without unduly upsetting the routine of an individual.
Therefore, many of our families find that it works well to visit during the day on 31st December, or on New Year’s Day itself, but leave actually ringing in the New Year to a different celebration. This way you still get to enjoy a New Year’s Eve with a party-atmosphere but your loved one doesn’t become unsettled.
Celebrations like New Year can unsettle both dementia sufferers and their family. Work together with their care providers to ensure that your loved one feels safe and secure, as well as well-cared for. It’s possible to balance the needs of all the family, as long as you have the right support.