Senior Living Q&A;: Christmas with a dementia patient

Q. As Christmas approaches; I am getting concerned about my mother and the festivities. She has dementia, but enjoys being with the family. How can I keep her engaged and yet not overwhelmed?

As you know, people with dementia lose their short-term memory first and their long-term memory last. For example, they often remember people and events from their earlier years, but have difficulty remembering what they ate for breakfast the day before.

The first thing to keep in mind is to relax and have fun. Here are some activities she can do with the family:

Reminisce! Everything you do together lends itself to reminiscing. If she can still speak fairly well, say, “Tell me about...” If her vocabulary is more limited, you may have to facilitate the story. “Do you remember when....” As you bake cookies together, you can talk about her favorite cookies, meals, etc.

Read aloud and use visual aids such as memory poems, family pictures, or stories about “the days gone by” to stimulate reminiscences. A good resource is the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books.

Make music. Sing, hum, whistle, dance. Singing brings oxygen to the brain to help you think more clearly. Dancing exercises other parts of the body. Both increase your own sense of well-being, as well as her well-being.

Structure some activities around your children’s ages and interests. If you have young children, they may enjoy having Grandma dance along with them. If you have teenage girls, they may enjoy giving Grandma a manicure. She will enjoy the touch and closeness of having her hands massaged with lotion, even if she won’t remain still enough for polish.

Keeping the mind and body active are important for everyone, but especially your loved one with dementia. Do something that is enjoyable for both of you, and it makes it that much easier.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World