Caring at Christmas

23rd December 2019

 Gail St Juste-Alcide
Christmas is a time for celebration. However, it can also highlight feelings of sadness and loss. Our wonderful care team do their utmost to support Pensioners, whatever their needs, during the festive season. Senior Staff Nurse Gail St Juste-Alcide told us about Christmas on Campbell Ward, where Pensioners living with dementia are cared for.  

At this time of year, we decorate the ward – we have trees, tinsel and a crib. Pensioners work with members of staff to make decorations. This year, they’ve made stars to hang outside their rooms and colourful pompoms. Our artist in residence helped the Pensioners to make miniature canvases for the craft advent calendar in the Infirmary reception too. 

As Christmas approaches, Pru who plays piano for the Pensioners each Thursday starts to do seasonal songs and Colin Thackery sings with her. The team who work here love singing and dancing too and that makes the Pensioners smile! Familiar faces are very important when someone has dementia. We always have regular staff to look after the Pensioners, otherwise they can get fearful and think ‘this person doesn’t understand me’.

Granting Pensioners’ Christmas wishes

Everybody in the ward has a Christmas wish list. If they can’t speak, or don’t have relatives to help, we’ll put our heads together and think what they’d like. Then we’ll buy each of them several presents and wrap them up. One Pensioner wanted a bottle of whisky last year! We’ll read out Christmas cards for them and help them to unwrap gifts. If they want to go to events – like Christmas Mass in the Wren Chapel – we’ll take them there, sit with them and take them back again. 

On Christmas Day, Pensioners wear Christmas hats and we wear Christmas jumpers – there are no uniforms and Campbell Ward has a family feel. Relatives will visit and we provide them with accommodation if needed. If a Pensioner doesn’t have family, we’re their family. As the main advocate for the Pensioners’ care, their Captain gets involved in our celebrations. The Matron comes to see the Pensioners and the Chaplain and Director come to all the wards and greets each Pensioner. Santa also comes to give out presents and we take photographs with the Pensioners’ consent. 

Respecting Pensioners choices  

On the big day we decorate the tables with tealights and crackers and sit with the Pensioners. The food is good – there’s turkey and Christmas puddings as well as other choices. If Pensioners can’t speak, we’ll go through the menu with them and they’ll nod or point – we know what they’re trying to tell us. Giving people a choice is important for wellbeing. In dementia care people get very unhappy if they think you’ve taken their rights and responsibilities away. You can see it and sense it. That’s why we also give them options when they’re getting dressed – we’ll ask “Would you like to wear this, or this? Do you prefer this colour or that one?” 

Christmas heightens everything. If you don’t know someone’s likes or dislikes they can get aggressive or depressed. We get to know their preferences. When they’re admitted, we find out as much information as possible on their history, so we can create a care plan. For example, they’ll be certain music they might like or dislike. Many of the Pensioners enjoy carols and love it when children come in to sing them.

Caring for the Pensioners who find Christmas difficult

If a Pensioner is getting end-of-life care, it’s a sad time for their family. Pensioners and their loved ones may reminisce about childhood or wartime Christmases. Those of us who work here remember Pensioners who are no longer here, or what they said before they had dementia. 

Some of our Pensioners struggle at this time of year. One Pensioner never liked Christmas, because his son died in an accident on that day. He would cry and refuse to eat or drink. We provided one-to-one, person-centred care for him – caring for him in his room, or in an area without decoration. We didn’t talk about Christmas to him, but would give him extra attention, so he didn’t feel left out.  Schools often come in at this time of year, but one of our Pensioners isn’t comfortable with children, so we’ll take her away for another activity at those times.

Sometimes the celebrations can become too much for a Pensioner. If that happens, we’ll take him or her to our quiet room. It’s dimly lit with different records to choose from. It has access to our balcony too, so we can wheel them outside too, which is calming.

Whatever a Pensioner’s needs are, we do our best to meet them. We try to make them happy at all times, Christmas or not.

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