My nana has Alzheimer’s – Christmas feels very different this year

My nana has Alzheimer’s – Christmas feels very different this year

For many families, Christmas is an exciting, fun-filled time marked by colourful decorations, a delicious dinner and the constant chatter of friends and family. For hundreds of thousands of people living with dementia though, the festive season can be challenging at best and, at worst, terrifying and confusing.

One in three people born in the UK today will go on to develop dementia in their lifetime, and like so many health conditions it is indiscriminate. Famous faces such as Fiona Phillips, Julie Goodyear and the late Barbara Windsor were all touched by the disease.

There are currently 900,000 people living with the condition and numbers are set to rise.

Compassion, empathy, love and support is what is needed more than ever at this time of the year and something that Grace Ryan, 23, a dementia advisor at Alzheimer’s Society from Shropshire, understands well. Her grandmother Daphne, lives with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in a care home and was diagnosed in 2017.

"It can be very difficult to balance supporting people living with dementia professionally while having my own personal experience in the back of my mind," she said. "At Christmas we always notice an uptick in calls coming through.

"I treat every individual and their journey separately. I always remember that their story might be quite different from mine with my nana. She was diagnosed with mixed dementia in 2017 – that’s vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s – and she’s entering those more advanced stages now.

"She lives in a nursing home but before dementia she was a hairdresser, loved dancing and had a massive, active, sociable personality. I see glimpses of that even now. She’s not overly verbal, she can’t form a sentence, but she’ll still hum along to a song. She knows who I am.

"She loved Christmas. She was a Christian throughout her life so this time of the year is always important. Christmas feels very different without her being so present in it. Christmas brings a lot of happiness, but for some, it brings pain. If you have dementia, you might be living in past memories, thinking of past Christmases, people you’ve lost.

"If I could have one more Christmas with my nana by my side I’d love to take her carol singing. Even in her advanced stages I know she’d love it."

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