While many of us might get a bit bored of the same old Christmas films, TV repeats and seasonal songs being rolled out each year, people with dementia can actually benefit from a touch of festive familiarity.
NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health Alistair Burns says singing along to White Christmas and re-watching classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and The Snowman can be particularly helpful to older people as they can stimulate memories and bring people together over the festive season by helping keep the brain active.
Re-watching these classic films from our younger years can stimulate ‘emotional memories’ in people with dementia. They might not remember the exact details of what guardian angel Clarence Oddbody showed James Stewart’s depressed George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, but they will recall how they felt at the end of the film.
It’s those emotional details which remain lodged in our minds and rekindling them improves a feeling of connectedness with other people which is so important for people with dementia and their loved ones.
Professor Burns said: “People with dementia might find it hard to follow convoluted conversations amid the chaos and noise of Christmas and can end up feeling excluded. Gathering the family round to watch a much-loved classic film, thumb through an old photo album, play a family game or even sing along to a favourite carol can bring people together and help everybody feel part of the fun.
“Helping people live well into old age and manage with dementia are key parts of the NHS Long Term Plan and with the NHS diagnosing a record number of older people with dementia this year, it’s vital we all do what we can to keep our brains active and social networks alive.”
Christmas can be something of a social whirl for many families – with a steady stream of house guests coming through the door – and for people with dementia, this departure from the familiar might feel strange, unsettling or confusing.
Kathryn Smith, Chief Operating Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Christmas is a wonderful time of year where people reconnect with loved ones. For the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, it can pose difficulties, but at Alzheimer’s Society, we are here to help make sure that a dementia diagnosis doesn’t mean Christmas can’t continue to be full of festive fun.
“Whether it’s an old song they used to enjoy or a classic Christmas film, reminiscing can be beneficial to someone with dementia – it can help to maintain their self-esteem, confidence and sense of self, as well as improve social interactions with others. However, every person with dementia is different, so it’s important to listen and accommodate to your loved one’s unique needs and wishes.