Christmas carols could trigger festive memories in dementia sufferers

Close up of the hands of a woman playing Christmas carols on a piano
Christmas carols can help patients tap into festive memories. [Photo: Getty]

Singing Christmas carols could trigger festive memories in dementia sufferers, an expert has said.

Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia, warns this time of year can be unsettling for those with the memory-robbing disorder.

Yet it may also be the perfect time to help them remember days gone by.

Listening to Christmas classics - like Silent Night - or watching beloved festive sitcoms - such as the Vicar of Dibley special - can tap into memories of Christmases past.

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Dementia is the umbrella term for conditions that cause a progressive decline in brain function, according to the NHS.

This may lead to memory loss, mental fog, poor judgement, mood swings and difficulty carrying out day-to-day tasks.

In the UK, 850,000 people are thought to be living with dementia, Alzheimer’s Research UK statistics show.

An estimated 5.8 million Americans lived with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, this year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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“People with dementia might find it hard to follow convoluted conversations amid the chaos and noise of Christmas and can end up feeling excluded,” Professor Burns said.

“Gathering the family round to watch a much-loved classic film, thumb through an old photo album, play a family game or even sing along to a favourite carol can bring people together and help everybody feel part of the fun,” the BBC reported.

The emotional storyline of Christmas songs and films is thought to bring back memories and help connect people.

Kathryn Smith, chief operating officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, added: “Reminiscing can be beneficial to someone with dementia - it can help to maintain their self-esteem, confidence and sense of self, as well as improve social interactions with others”.

She stressed, however, every dementia sufferer is unique, with no advice being “one size fits all”.

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To help patients enjoy the festive season, NHS England recommends spreading out family visits.

It is also important not to overload their plate. Too much food could trigger anxiety, particularly if they have difficulty eating or swallowing.

NHS England also urges families to remain flexible and be prepared to change plans last minute if the patient seems distressed.

With families gathered together, Christmas can also highlight early warning signs of dementia.

Professor Burns recommends looking out for emotional changes or forgetfulness in elderly relatives.

Other symptoms include difficulty concentrating, struggling to follow a conversation, confusion over the time or place, and mood swings, according to the NHS.

The Alzheimer’s Society has more information on a “dementia-friendly Christmas”.

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