“My loved one has dementia. What can I give him/her for Christmas?”
Not too long ago, I sat at the bedside of a friend who was in the process of leaving this life after a long struggle with dementia. This lovely woman was such an inspiration to me. Though she struggled with memory and sensory problems, she smiled readily, sang often, and her words – though sometimes difficult to understand – were always filled with encouragement and joy. Her ability to talk had left her. Her health was failing, but she was still singing. Still full of joy.
Earlier in her dementia journey, she had told me stories about her childhood and the romance with her husband. She had talked about her family and her hobbies. And, sadly, she had lived in our memory care wing long enough that we had made our own memories together. But, now, when she kept her eyes closed and rarely responded, I could still get her to smile by re-telling the story of how she got her nickname. And, she would still sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ with me.
This is what it’s all about… making connections with your person and getting them to smile. These are the gifts of Christmas presence and the gifts of every day. As dementia progresses, the ‘things’ we give our person are not as important as the immaterial gifts – the things we do with them.
So, what can you give your person for Christmas?
Time and Love
Give them your smile, your hand, a hug… your acceptance.
Sing Christmas Carols with them.
Show them photos of the ‘good old days’ – either family photos or ‘google’ vintage photos on your e-tablet, laptop, or smartphone to share.
Give them back their stories of the past and make new memories together. You just may find that YOU are the one who received a special Christmas gift.
And, you may find, as I have, that the person with dementia has given you unexpected gifts as well! The gifts of laughter and music – of tender memories and of times of joy and perspective – the gift of shared human experience. And, really, isn’t that what life is all about? Sharing our earthly journey with others?
But what if I really want to give my loved one something to keep?
If you really want to give them something tangible, try to engage their senses.
Look for something that is pleasing to touch – a soft sweater, a fluffy blanket, a warm cape.
Give them something to ‘fiddle’ with – a fidget blanket, a building toy, a stuffed dog, cat, or baby doll – something that reflects their past preferences.
Bring something to look at – a photo album, a memory box, a coffee-table book with photos of something that interested them in the past.
How about something fragrant – a favorite perfume or body lotion.
Something to taste – candy (please check with the nurses if in a facility), chocolate, favorite foods and drinks, Christmas treats.
Something to hear – music and music players, music box, clocks that chime times but can be turned down at night, jewelry that jingles!
If your special someone is in a nursing or personal care facility, please speak with nursing about what you have brought in so that it can be labeled.
Resources to check out!
Hesitant to interact with those with dementia? Please check out the 15 Tips for Visiting People with Memory Loss.
This https://singinghearttoheart.com/christmas-resources will take you to a Resource Library. Click on the ’15 Tips’ under ‘Additional Resources.’