Five tips for a dementia-friendly Christmas

While living with the sensory challenges of dementia may be difficult at times, there are a few simple steps families can take to help everyone enjoy an inclusive and fun-filled celebration.

dementia friendly christmas

Picture the scene: the most senior member of your family takes their usual seat at the head of the table for Christmas lunch. Children are darting about happily, people are being greeted as they enter the house from behind the head seat, and several conversations compete with festive music coming from the adjacent room. People help themselves to food and drinks served in the middle of the table and start to tuck in.

It sounds like a typical Christmas day – until your sweet, beloved older relative loses their temper. But while living with the sensory challenges of dementia may be difficult at times, there are a few simple steps families can take to help everyone enjoy an inclusive and fun-filled celebration.

The tips below are a result of the latest research and practice from the Director of the Dementia Centre, A/Prof Colm Cunningham, and Agnes Houston MBE, who is living with dementia. For many more tips throughout the year, check out My home, my life: Practical ideas for people with dementia and carers, which was recently awarded the 2018 Australasian Journal on Ageing book of the year.

Less noise is more fun

We’ve all heard that nostalgic music can be great for people living with dementia, but one lesser-known symptom of the condition is a reduced ability to filter out background noise. When it’s time to sit down and enjoy a conversation, it’s best to turn off the radio and tell the kids to pipe down – or head to another room. Try to stick to one conversation at a time, and don’t be afraid of a bit of silence. It’s important to give your loved one more time to gather their thoughts so they can take part in the conversation.

Don’t get stuck on seat placement

It might be tradition for the eldest relative to take pride of place at the head of the table, but that may not be the best place for someone living with dementia. Can they see people entering the room? This could help avoid confusion and unwanted surprises. Consider how easily they can get in and out of the seat, and reach everything they need on the table. Think about how close your loved one will be to people they might want to talk to, and how well they can see everything going on in the room.

If it all gets a bit tiring and overwhelming, the person with dementia may appreciate having a quiet place to retreat to. This could be a bedroom or sitting room away from the noise and people, but with clear and easy access to a well-lit bathroom.

Light up your life

Did you know that someone aged 75 needs about twice as much light as someone aged 45 to do the same things comfortably? This is especially true for people living with dementia. Good lighting can not only improve appetite but also mood – so a candlelit meal may not be as calming as you’d hoped. It’s also important to consider factors like glare and the importance of strong colour contrast.

For more information about lighting, check out Enlighten: Lighting for older people and people with dementia.

Think creatively with your menu

Many of the Christmas favourites can easily be adapted to become finger-foods for those who have difficulty with cutlery, or even accommodate a texture-modified diet. Try serving nourishing finger food throughout the house and providing smaller portions for the main meal. As much as possible, your relative will appreciate enjoying the same food as everyone else and not feeling left out.

For more tips on serving appetizing food for people living with dementia, including those on a texture-modified diet, check out HammondCare’s range of cookbooks with chef Peter Morgan-Jones.

Don’t forget the carer

With all the travel and other considerations of Christmas, it’s easy for this time of year to actually become busier for the primary carer of someone living with dementia. You can help ensure they enjoy a well-earned break with some simple consideration. Give them some time-out by making sure you and other family members sit with your loved one during mealtime and throughout other parts of the day.

If you find it difficult to make or maintain conversation, try prompting memories and stories with family photo albums and videos. You could even enjoy a family sing-along with some Christmas tunes and other classic favourites. The important thing is not to give up – try different tactics, while being aware that your loved one may also just need a break sometimes.

For more information or to request an interview with A/Prof Cunningham, contact Peter Hallett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 0418 532 585.