Dementia doesn’t stop just for Christmas

Ashley Thomas - played by John Middleton
Ashley Thomas - played by John Middleton

People who are hosting somebody with dementia for Christmas dinner are being urged to think about how they set the table to reduce stress levels.

New tips suggest allowing people with dementia to graze on items such as sausage rolls, pigs in blankets and mince pies to prevent them feeling overwhelmed.

People living with dementia face challenges most of us can barely imagine

Ian MacLeod

Christmas dinner should also be a small gathering with familiar people to ensure the person with dementia does not find the day too distressing.

The new advice follows on from Tuesday’s episode of Emmerdale which was shown from the perspective of long-running character Ashley Thomas, who suffers from stroke-related early onset vascular dementia and fans have watched as his condition gradually worsens.

Emmerdale fans have praised the show for its sensitive portrayal of dementia and this week ITV screened an entire, groundbreaking episode through the vicar’s eyes, played by actor John Middleton.

The one-off production saw changes to camerawork and editing to show Ashley’s confused point of view as he left a hospital and made his way out on to the streets alone.

He said to himself: “Where was I going? Was I visiting someone? Yes, that was it. No. I was leaving.”

As he walked through a door and headed outside, he said: “This is the way. Yes. This must be the way. This is the way home.”

Viewers saw him walking down the street in his pyjamas as he said: “Keep going. It’s all right. I can find it. I can get home.”

Emmerdale producers have worked closely with both the Alzheimer’s Society and MHA (Methodist Homes) throughout the storyline, and the episode had their backing.

Ian MacLeod, Emmerdale’s series producer, said: “People living with dementia face challenges most of us can barely imagine.

“So, I took it as a challenge to help people picture this experience - to put them inside the mind of someone living with this condition.

“With this chapter of Ashley’s story, we set out to give people an insight into how ordinary, day-to-day experiences can become disorientating and distressing when refracted through the lens of dementia. Catching a bus, the apparently simple act of buying something in a shop, holding a conversation - all of these become tasks of Herculean scale.”

The tips released today to help families over the festive season also include keeping background music at low levels to reduce confusion, avoiding red colours in table settings, which can be upsetting for some people with dementia, and serving food on blue plates, which will always provide a contrast with the food and means food can easily be seen.

The table should also be free of clutter and kept as simple as possible, with cutlery laid just before each course and candles put away.

It is also recommended that the meal is discussed with the person with dementia beforehand, so they know what to expect and may be able to suggest foods from past Christmasses that they have enjoyed.

James Clear, a chef with Care UK, which came up with the tips, said: “The key thing to consider when having Christmas with a loved one living with dementia is to not only give some thought to that person’s likes and dislikes around food and drink, but also to get family members or friends to remind you what has made their Christmas gatherings so special in the past.

“Evoking memories will help your loved one feel so much more at ease and able to enjoy the food and this special occasion.”

Kathryn Smith, director of operations at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia doesn’t stop at Christmas and for many people affected by the condition the festive season can actually heighten the difficulties they are already facing.

“This can be very upsetting, but it’s important to remember that there are things families can try to do help make Christmas more enjoyable for everyone. These clever tips and recipes from Care UK are really worth giving a go.

“Other tips and tricks we’ve heard about from people affected by dementia include putting up Christmas decorations in stages because their sudden appearance can be frightening, listening to familiar music or reminiscing over photos and making sure there’s a quiet room available if the festivities become overwhelming.”