What does Christmas mean to you?

  • Food
  • Family
  • Festivities

But for those who are affected by dementia, Christmas can be a really difficult time of year. And although Christmas days can be noisy and stressful for everyone involved, for those who suffer from dementia, the noise and blaring music over people talking can make Christmas Day very unsettling and confusing.

Dementia is a blanket term for Alzheimer, and other forms of acquired brain diseases are increasingly common and saddening realities for many older members of society. The most common symptoms of these syndromes are deteriorating quality and capability in cognitive, social and physical functions.

There are seven key aspects to defining Dementia. Rather than just being forgetful, those afflicted with this condition and the other similar illnesses display reduced function or problem with at least two of the following aspects:

Memory – Short-term incapacity to remember details
Communication and speech – including spelling, the speed of speech and level of coherence
Focus and concentration – trouble focusing or concentrating on specific tasks
Visual perception – Issues with balance and movement
Reasoning and judgment – Irrational behaviour and mood swings

The stages of Dementia

Dementia is split into seven key stages, which last varying lengths of time. In addition to this, the stages can be categorised into four aspects of the dementia cycle.

No Dementia

Comprising of the first three stages of Dementia, the different stages are categorised as follows:

  1. No dementia – The person is mentally healthy and displays no issues with function or memory. In short, they are healthy.
  2. Very mild cognitive decline – General forgetfulness appears, which is usually attributed to ageing
  3. Mild Cognitive Decline – People begin to experience more common forgetfulness, decreased work performance, speaking difficulty and trouble concentrating.

This stage usually lasts around seven years, before progressing further, however, this period can be longer or shorter. Dementia and other cognitive brain diseases should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Early Stage Dementia

This element of the cycle only has one stage: Moderate Cognitive Decline.

  • Moderate Cognitive Decline – The person experiences increased difficulties with concentrating. This can manifest in a number of forms
  • Forgetting conversations, recent details or planned events
  • Issues with communication
  • Inability to comprehend day, date or time
  • Issues with remembering names, or identifying people
  • Misplacing, or losing items and objects

The cognitive decline is usually measured and detected during medical reviews and exams, designed to test memory. On average, this stage lasts two years before progressing.

Mid-Stage Dementia

Mid-stage dementia manifests in two stages – Stage 5 and Stage 6 and between them, they can last up to around four years. By this point, the person is experiencing severe cognitive decline and usually needs help to complete basic menial tasks. They may start to forget the identities of close family and friends and communication is severely impaired. Other symptoms include:

  • Issues comprehending day and night – insomnia or confusion
  • Wandering off, or getting lost
  • Issues with perception
  • Inability to recall personal details, address or phone number
  • Inappropriate behaviour in social situations

Late Stage Dementia

The final stage of Dementia, Stage 7 can be categorised as a severe cognitive decline. Usually lasting between two and three years, this stage is most cruel as the person loses the ability to complete basic functions and communication, without significant assistance. Additional issues may include:

  • Restlessness, or trouble sleeping
  • Incontinence
  • Outbursts due to confusion, anger, anxiety or depression
  • Vulnerability to infections
  • Issues with eating and drinking
  • Loss of speech

Dementia is, unfortunately, a terminal disease. Although medication exists to alleviate various aspects of the condition, it is impossible to fully cure anyone afflicted. However, a number of other therapies, including occupational therapy, psychological therapy and dementia-friendly activities such as memory cafes, reminiscing or light physical activities can help alleviate this problem.

For people whose loved ones have been diagnosed with vascular dementia or other cognitive brain diseases, it can sometimes be difficult to cope. The decline is evident to see and ultimately, you will never get the same person back once again.

Here are some dementia care tips to help you this Christmas:

  • Focus on their abilities, not the dementia. Instead of constantly reminding them that it’s Christmas Day, try and keep them calm and relaxed by watching a film they remember or by listening to a piece of music they love
  • Include them – ask them to write Christmas cards with you, or help you to set the table, including them will give them purpose
  • If you’ve taken a loved one who is suffering from dementia out of their usual surroundings for the day, make sure you get them home while it’s light, that way they will feel more calm and aware of their surroundings
  • Give them something they’ll remember – you don’t need to get a brand new dressing gown for someone who is suffering from dementia. Keep presents simple and familiar, perhaps create a festive reminiscence box, or dig an old gem out of storage that may spark a memory from the past.