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How can I make mum's Christmas easier.

(23 Posts)
Justturned50 Tue 15-Nov-16 20:27:32

My mum is 81 and has told me she hates Christmas. She finds all the commercialism really hard to deal with and has never been big on entertaining. She's starting to show signs of dementia but we have no diagnosis and is generally quite anxious. I have 2 boys 16 & 13 and am trying to find a balance between them.

Brontebiscuits Tue 15-Nov-16 20:33:58

www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=2085
this might not all be relevant if your mum is only showing some signs of dementia but there may be something in the link that helps?

keeping it calm and simple might be best and having somewhere your mum can retreat to if she gets overwhelmed? (I'm assuming she's spending the day with you?). Can you ask her for ideas on what she might enjoy - memories of Christmases she DID enjoy and why?

Maryann1975 Tue 15-Nov-16 20:44:28

My grandparents both have dementia. Last year I made them a photo book with lots of photos throughout their lives together. It took hours, scanning all the photos in, but they really liked it and has given us lots to talk about throughout the year. We've found with my grandparents that although they can't remember recent events, their long term memories are both doing ok and they can recognise family who have long passed away.
Will you spend the day with your mum? Is she in a care home or still living independently? My gps wouldn't know it was Christmas Day so to do two Christmas days would be fine for them (we are doing this on Boxing Day after having Christmas Day as normal). They both prefer quiet and normal rather than having their routines changed and all the noise that comes from their great grandchildren, so for our family, this will work well. It is different for everyone though as all families work differently.

GETTINGLIKEMYMOTHER Tue 15-Nov-16 21:06:17

When my mother was still at home with dementia, I found that she couldn't cope with noise, fuss, or a lot of extra people - we had to keep it quiet and calm, and stick to her normal routine as far as possible on the day. I don't mind admitting this wasn't easy to combine with a normal family Christmas, but siblings and I would take turns.

Beforehand I'd buy any presents for her, wrap them and just get her to sign the tags. Ditto any cards she wanted to send - would buy, address and post them, just get her to sign. As the dementia became more advanced she wasn't even up for this, and wouldn't be aware that it was Christmas anyway, even on the day with crackers and turkey on the table.

The Alzheimer's Society website has an excellent forum for carers of people with dementia. Whatever you are experiencing, someone will have been there. There are often no easy answers, but at least there are always others who know exactly what it's like.

Justturned50 Tue 15-Nov-16 21:28:38

She recently moved next door to us so we can pop in and out and is still reasonably independent. It seems wrong to leave her by herself while we have fun next door and I'm not always sure she knows what she wants. She seems just to panic at the thought of Christmas and any kind of shopping.

AcrossthePond55 Tue 15-Nov-16 22:08:09

My mum has dementia. When she started to decline I gradually took over 'doing' Xmas for her. If she is in early dementia, she probably gets stressed or nervous easily and the fear of forgetfulness can make someone 'hate' things they used to enjoy. The key is to reduce what she does and start to transition her into a 'guest'.

Shopping - At first I took her shopping and she would select things and wrap them. The next step was taking her shopping and my pretty much saying "Oh X would like this" and putting it in the basket and my wrapping whilst she watched. Next step was my just doing her shopping for her and bringing it over for her 'to see' then taking them to my home to be wrapped and returned.

Decorating - This went from me doing her 'full on' decorating with her telling me what to do to gradually reducing the number of decorations to her little artificial tree, a few Xmas throw pillows, and small nativity. It ended with me doing the decorating while she watched.

Food- My brother lived with her and always did Xmas dinner so it was just a matter of my taking over a few sides and telling Mum to just 'relax'. We learnt that it was best if she sat away from the kitchen and if we were as quiet as possible (avoid crashing pots and pans, set the table without clattering).

Mum went to assisted care 3 years ago. The first year she came to our house, stayed a few hours, and enjoyed it. Second year she came but became fretful and wanted to leave right after dinner. Last year we made the decision to eat with her at the care home. She didn't really 'take in' that it was Xmas but the facility does a nice lunch so we ate with her and then went home and had our own Xmas dinner later. It was really hard.

Try to make it clear to your mum that Xmas is on you now and she won't need to lift a finger. If your mum lives next door, let her come and go as she pleases. Try to get her to come for dinner but if she says she doesn't want to come, don't force her, take her a plate. But do send someone over a few times to see if she's changed her mind.

Dementia is a true bitch.

foursillybeans Tue 15-Nov-16 22:13:50

I don't have any personal experience with dementia in my close family but encounter it in a small way with my customers at work. Have you tried Pictures to Share, a publishing company who make books with photographs to share with older family with the aim of sharing memories of happy times? Also what about making a simple decoration or two with your mum or for your mum? If she prefers past times when Christmas was not commercial and over the top they may be just what she would enjoy.

Justturned50 Wed 16-Nov-16 08:14:38

Acrossthepond55 you seem to have captured exactly where we are so it's great to have a view on what seems to work. I guess I'm worried about backing off too far and having her feel left out.

Justturned50 Wed 16-Nov-16 08:17:12

foursillybeans I was thinking yesterday that she might like to make some Christmas cards so this might be something to work on.

user1477282676 Wed 16-Nov-16 08:17:47

It sounds so hard. I would still ask her opinion....on things like gifts etc. Perhaps she could have a nice quiet tea with you or you and the rest of your family if that's not too much but at her house? If you brought the food?

Justturned50 Wed 16-Nov-16 08:22:52

Gettinglikemymother its the combining with the family that troubles me most I think. At least my children are old enough to understand most of what's happening.

Justturned50 Wed 16-Nov-16 08:31:01

user1477282676 it is so hard and all very new to me. I have thought about tea at her house. It's good to hear others suggest it too makes it feel acceptable.

BikeRunSki Wed 16-Nov-16 08:37:57

If the shopping worries her, tell her but to worry about presents, or offer to shop on her behalf. Also, cook for her, so she does not have to worry about food shopping.

girlywhirly Wed 16-Nov-16 14:33:12

You could offer lunch at your house, or she could eat it in her own home. If she did come to you, she could go back home for a rest/ nap afterwards. Or you could join her for tea, or if she came for lunch someone could bring her tea round for her in her home.

Yes to taking the worry about presents and food away from her, and it's great that she can retreat to her own home when she needs to, so that you can have more noisy entertainment then at yours.

Meandacat Wed 16-Nov-16 15:19:34

My mum did not have dementia but did suffer very much with depression on top of being in her 80s with severe mobility issues (thanks to arthritis) and being very deaf and nearly blind on top. She also found it very stressful and more than a few people at once would panic her. Tbh, Acrossthepond55 has nailed it. Pare things back in her own home, and do as much as you can for her. We kept opening presents and xmas dinner to just a few of us and let her retire to her chair or her room as soon as it was done. You have kids to think of too, but maybe you could you pop round later after your own main event for a smaller version with her? (Visions of Vicar of Dibley here, but if you mum is in her 80s I'm sure she doesn't need a big spread). Also, other family members would pop by but we tried to keep this spread out through the week rather than all on xmas day so she wasn't overwhelmed. Good luck.

GETTINGLIKEMYMOTHER Wed 16-Nov-16 17:44:25

I sincerely wish everyone coping with dementia at Christmas as peaceful and stress free a day as possible. As so many have said, calm and quiet are usually best.

My worst dementia-Christmas experience was quite early on in the disease. My mother lived 60 miles away and sister and niece from the US were staying with her for a couple of days prior.

Shortly before I left to,pick them all up on Christmas Eve, my mother phoned to say she was very sorry, but she didn't think she could face the usual busy Christmas at our house - she'd rather stay at home quietly on her own.
I was disappointed, but I took her presents down, plus some nice food, brought sister and niece here.
Roll on just a few hours and my mother was on the phone, very angry and upset - what was she doing all on her own on Christmas Eve? What sort of a daughter was I? She was cutting me out of her will, etc. etc.

I don't know when I've ever been so upset - it was no use telling her OF COURSE she'd been invited, but she hadn't wanted to come! She had completely forgotten it all, and there was no convincing her. I said that if she'd changed her mind, I'd drive down right now and fetch her. No, she didn't want that either.
I was in tears for ages.
But by the next day she'd forgotten the call completely, was back to normal, no recollection at all.
I hope nobody here will experience anything of the sort. Dementia is such a vile disease, for family as well as the sufferers.

AcrossthePond55 Wed 16-Nov-16 17:56:22

If your children are old enough to understand that Granny needs them to be calm and quiet (-ish) that would be nice, I think. But even that's an unknown. One moment Mum would be enjoying the hullabaloo and noise, a moment later you could see it was distressing her and she wanted to leave.

Since she's next door, would it work if the cooking was done at yours and then the food brought next door and eaten with her then the dishes taken back to yours or use disposables? If you're a large party, perhaps one or two of you could go eat with her? I know it might 'break up' the party, but sometimes it's worth it.

It really is hard to 'follow their lead' because things change and what was fine today may agitate them tomorrow and be fine again the next day. And offers to 'do for them' may be gratefully accepted or turned down violently with "Do you think I'm senile!?!". All you can do is try to quietly suggest and if she says no let it go, if she accepts be prepared to stop in the middle and give her back control. If you're out, have an 'exit' plan. I've left a cart full of groceries or meals half eaten if Mum got a certain 'look' on her face. And you'll begin to recognize your mother's 'look', the same as we learnt to recognize certain 'looks' on our children's faces.

I usually said something along the lines of "Mum, you have always done so much for the family at Xmas/Birthdays/Easter and I've always been able to just sit and relax. I know you enjoy doing for us, but now it's my turn to 'treat' you and show you how well you taught me". At first she kept certain tasks that were easy or so ingrained in her memory that she could do them without thinking (her gravy was incomparable). Then I transitioned those into "Mum, this year I want you to show me how to XXX. You do it so much better and I really want to learn how you do it". It's all about allowing them to keep their pride and still feel useful.

I sure wish this came with an instruction manual. We're all just groping in the dark carrying the load and hoping we don't stumble and drop it.

Justturned50 Thu 17-Nov-16 16:26:01

This has all helped so much with my getting some perspective on all of this. I think this year may just be OK. I've already experienced her knocking on my door on my 50th birthday to ask what day it was and still not making the connection 😣

DoItTooJulia Thu 17-Nov-16 17:03:45

I'd be tempted to pare Christmas Day down as much as possible. So, perhaps a carol service in the morning (if it's her kind of thing), then make a small lunch that you all enjoy together nice and early, followed by an exchange of a gift each and the Queens speech. Then leave her to it.

Your family can have the 'proper christmas' on Boxing Day, which you could see if she wanted to join you for. If she didn't you could pop round in the morning and afternoon and have a wee dram with your mum remembering Christmases of old (perhaps you could play some old fashioned Christmas music and give her photo albums to go through with you).

Music is actually really therapeutic. My nan could remember all of the words to old tom jones songs even when she couldn't remember who she was or we were or what day of the week it was. She had videos of his concerts and would actually play them back to back and she was truly happy in those times.

Does she have a way to play music?

AcrossthePond55 Thu 17-Nov-16 20:05:13

Just I'm glad if I've helped. There are countless thousands of us walking this road. Some of us are ahead of you, some of us are behind you. But we're all walking it together, nonetheless.

Christmas blessings to you and your family.

stillwantrachelshair Thu 17-Nov-16 20:52:47

My Gran didn't have dementia but did get to the stage where many things in life got too overwhelming & Christmas was one of them. She really liked "traditions" but over the years we transitioned them from going to Nine Lessons & Carols to watching Carols from King's on TV & that sort of thing.
Sending cards was VERY Important to her & my mum (her DIL) spent hours writing them, addressing them etc whilst Gran just signed them.
As far as gifts were concerned, my mum would take Gran to M&S on a mid-week morning as soon as it opened so it was quite quiet and they would do the Christmas shopping - wine for men; chocolates for women; gift vouchers for all family members over about 10; PJs for those under 10 and perhaps a little toy. In recent years, this got phased to my mum showing her & saying something along the lines of "while I was in there & I saw it, I thought I'd get it; saves you a trip in this horrible weather; they always appreciate their chocolate/wine/voucher/PJs".

Justturned50 Fri 18-Nov-16 20:48:03

across as someone just starting out on this journey your straightforward and honest advice is invaluable and also reassuring.

I hope you and yours enjoy a peaceful Christmas.

AcrossthePond55 Fri 18-Nov-16 21:34:14

Thanks Just. God willing, we'll all have a good Christmas.

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