The festive period has plenty of positive connotations, but for many people this time of year can be difficult.
This Christmas, in particular, is set to be the most challenging the world has seen for generations, with our usual plans and routines put on hold. Loneliness at this time of year can be difficult under normal circumstances, but after this year’s events it is important to be even more mindful of our mental health.
According to a 2019 survey by Age UK, Christmas is the loneliest time of year for over 1.5 million older people in the UK. It was estimated that over 200,000 older people spent Christmas alone last year. After a challenging year it is likely these, already soaring, figures could be higher and the impact of loneliness much greater.
To help provide insight into what you can do to reduce loneliness, we spoke to Stuart Wright, Brunelcare’s Dementia Lead. Stuart shares his thoughts on how best to help manage loneliness this Christmas. This article takes into consideration the varying needs and abilities of people, particularly those living with a dementia.
Keeping in touch
Socialising is a basic human need. However, the simple act of communication has sometimes felt challenging during the pandemic. Thankfully, there are still plenty of ways to keep in touch to help manage loneliness, though what is important to consider is how you do this in an inclusive way. Some people may not be able to engage in long video calls, take part in zoom quizzes or read large amounts of text. Here are a few ideas on how to adapt your communication style depending on your loved ones’ needs.
Video coffee mornings - If being on a video call is manageable, it can be a wonderful way to catch up with friends and family. Holding a virtual coffee and cake morning gives an easy common ground to start with, sometimes getting lost in conversation can mean we forget the virtual distance too! A video call isn’t for everyone, so if this is difficult try sharing videos and images to keep up to date with loved ones while you’re unable to see them.
Writing a letter - Not only is writing and reading letters a mindful task, it also doubles up as an engaging activity for both the sender and receiver. If you or a loved one has dementia, sending a letter with pictures or drawings can be a lovely activity to do together.
Writing a postcard - If writing a letter isn’t possible, sending a postcard can be equally beneficial. A simple picture with a short message is a way to reach out and brighten someone’s day.
Checking in - It’s never been more important to check in with loved ones, friends and neighbours. With restrictions in place this can be difficult to do physically, however giving someone a call, sending a letter or knocking on their door and keeping a physical distance while checking in can go a long way.
While the days are cold and wet it can be harder to get out and about. If you’re staying at home we recommend planning activities to keep you engaged. Here are some of our favourites.
Baking & cooking - Part of the magic of Christmas is the food! Whether you and your loved one can team up to bake together, or perhaps you lead the project yourself and appoint them a sous chef or chief taster. This is a lovely way to feel festive together and can be something to share with family and friends - either by delivering your delights or by sending pictures of your creations.
BBC reminiscence archives - The BBC has created a wonderful resource for people living with dementia. The reminiscence archives are available for free online. To use this resource, just select a decade or theme, this will then show you pictures, videos and play music from that era. This can help stimulate conversation with your loved one too. Visit the BBC Reminiscence Archives.
Crafts - Taking time to enjoy arts and crafts is not only a great way to bond over an activity, it is a great way to express ourselves. For someone living with a dementia, this can be particularly powerful. Making Christmas decorations, pictures or scrap books are just some of the ways you can get creative together. We like the idea of working together to create a ‘memory book’ using pictures, cards and letters. The final result will provide comfort to your loved one, and can also help stimulate conversation and memories around past activities you’ve experienced together.
Music - Music can bring many benefits for people living with a dementia. At this time of year, it can be particularly nice to create a music playlist with Christmas songs from years gone by.
Health & Wellbeing
Even taking steps to practice self care and look after our health can enhance our mood and help us feel more confident. Here are some tips to maintain your health and wellbeing.
Get outside - Going outside is extremely important for our health. Going for a walk during the day can do wonders for both our physical and mental health. The fresh air, gentle exercise and being in nature is extremely powerful. At this time of year getting outside can be challenging if the weather is wet and cold. Weather forecasts are now available up to 14 days in advance. Although the forecast can often change, checking the weather for the few days ahead can help you form a plan around when you plan to go outside during the week. Perhaps choose more indoor activities on the rainy days and try to go outdoors on the brighter days for a healthy balance.
Mindfulness - From using essential oils or scented candles to relax, to simple breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness can help reduce feelings of anxiety, loneliness and stress. If possible, try and incorporate mindful activities into your daily routine as practicing self care over an extended period of time can have lasting effects.
Vitamins - This year, the NHS recommends everyone takes 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day between October and early March to keep your bones and muscles healthy. This is because we’ve been indoors more than usual due to COVID-19. For people classed as vulnerable, a winter's supply of vitamin D will be free on the NHS, from January. We recommend consulting your GP to find out if you are eligible and whether you could benefit from taking other vitamins or minerals to support your health.
Food - A balanced diet at any time of the year is essential to maintain good mental and physical health. However there are winter foods which are particularly helpful to help boost our immune system and keep us well. Foods rich in vitamin C, D and zinc can support your immune system through the colder months - some great foods to stock up on are citrus fruits, oily fish and leafy greens. For personal advice on health and diet please consult your doctor.
Know there is support
There are a range of support networks for people who may be struggling at this time of year, if you are a carer who needs support, or if you are concerned about someone in your community we have highlighted some helplines to contact below.
- Age UK helpline: 0800 678 1602 (8am to 7pm every day)
- Dementia UK Helpline: 0800 888 66 78
- Alzheimer’s Society advice line 0333 1503 456
- Dementia Navigators (signposting to local services) 0117 904 515
Loneliness doesn’t just affect older generations, it affects people of all ages and backgrounds. With this in mind, it’s important to remember to be kind this Christmas. If 2020 has taught us anything it is how important it is to support one another.
When considering any of the above activities it’s important to adhere to COVID restrictions. For the latest government advice on Coronavirus, visit: www.gov.uk/coronavirus
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