If your loved one with dementia lives in a care home you might be wondering whether to bring them home for Christmas, and whether that’s even the best thing for them. Here’s eight questions to ask yourself before making a decision.
You may hate the idea of the person you love spending Christmas in a care home, but although emotions might be running high, it’s important to think carefully and calmly and weigh up all the pros and cons before deciding what to do.
1. How long have they been in the care home and how settled are they?
If your loved one has been in residential care for some time and seems quite content, they may really enjoy a day out, or even an overnight stay. However, if they always seem restless when you visit – perhaps they keep packing their bags or asking ‘when are we going home?’ – taking them out may seem like the ‘right’ thing to do…but may result in them becoming angry and aggressive when they return. If you’re still adamant they should come home with you, then any upsetting behaviour when they return may be a price worth paying… or maybe not.
2. How well do outings generally go?
Be honest: Even if it’s stressful for you, does the person you love seem to enjoy getting out, particularly if it’s to a place they remember, or to see people they love? Or does the whole experience exhaust them and leave you wondering, ‘what was the point?’
3. What do staff in the care home advise?
They may not know your loved one as well as you do, but they understand the condition and are very familiar with the kind of dilemma you’re facing. You may not like, or agree, with what they advise, but you should still bear it in mind before making a decision.
4. What happens in the care home on Christmas Day?
Many care homes have a great party atmosphere at Christmas and make a big effort to ensure their residents have a lovely time, and that their relatives are warmly welcomed. So before you rule it out, make sure you find out exactly what they have planned for Christmas Day. You may be pleasantly surprised and decide you’d like to join in yourself!
5. Can you manage practically?
If they haven’t been back to your house for a while, or have deteriorated quite a lot since they last visited, it’s worth considering the following:
• Can they still get around? How will they manage stairs, wooden floors or an upstairs toilet?
• Will you need to borrow a wheelchair? If you do, make sure you know how to use it properly!
• Do you have spare clothes and incontinence products in case of an accident? If not, make sure you get some.
• Are you – or someone you trust – able to give them your full attention? If they’re in the later stages of dementia this will be necessary, particularly when eating or if need to use the toilet.
6. Can they – and you – manage emotionally?
This may sound odd, because bringing the person you love home for Christmas is bound to make everyone happy, right? Not necessarily. Dementia is unpredictable, and just because they used to love eating Christmas lunch in your dining room surrounded by their whole family, it doesn’t mean they will now. In fact, they may find it very stressful, and become rude, cantankerous or tearful. Ask yourself how you would cope if they behave in a way which might be upsetting at a time of year when emotions already run high.
7. Still not sure? Do a dummy run
You’ll feel better prepared and may find you can sort out any potential problems. Or you may find it proves far more difficult than you imagined and decide to rethink.
8. And finally…
Wherever you spend Christmas Day, and whatever you end up doing, all that’s really important is that the person with dementia feels safe, happy…and loved. Everything else – including the turkey and the presents – comes second.