Christmas is a big part of our culture. It is an annual tradition that varies slightly from family to family but is there. It’s also a lot of work, especially if there are people involved who don’t know how to follow things well. An elder can fit into that group as easily as a small child.
It’s highly tempting to give it up, especially if you are the one that has to deal with it. In our family, during the cooking, there’s the fear that our elder will accidentally burn or cut herself. When decorating the tree, it could be knocked over or the lights could get tangled. Mistletoe has to be kept high out of reach for fear that it will be tasted. It’s a lot of work. Here’s why we should go ahead anyway.
Something to look forward to: Christmas is something that brings a sense of anticipation. Many of the elderly live very quiet, lonesome lives. They may not be able to get out much, but the anticipation of seeing familiar decorations, tasting traditional foods and seeing family members is important to them. Planning and preparing remedies boredom, which is a frequent precursor to depression.
Stimulates the brain: Even if an elder has some form of memory loss, stimulating the brain can have benefits. It can decrease the speed of memory loss. Figuring out how big the turkey needs to be for the entire family is one good exercise. It requires several types of thought pattern much as a math word problem or a cryptogram might.
Telling stories: In our family, there are always a few youngsters who haven’t heard all of the stories yet. Sitting on grandma’s lap and listening to these stories is good for the entire family, as it keeps the family history alive. It’s good for grandma because…well, she’s grandma and she knows she’s loved and appreciated.
Feeling needed: Believe me, this will be one of the harder parts of celebrating Christmas with an elder who has memory difficulties. It is faster and easier if you or I do it ourselves. That’s not the point. The point is that we all feel needed and appreciated.
I hate it when I have to tell our elder that there isn’t anything she can do. Instead, I find small jobs that she can do safely. She sets the table, gets out whatever condiments may be needed and has been able to dish up salad. She feels happy. It helps her enjoy being an active part of the celebration.
Not waiting to die: I’ve had several relatives who simply gave up. For the most part, it was because they had to quit doing something they loved. If they couldn’t do it, they didn’t want to live. Giving up Christmas could be the tipping point. I know of one case where it was.
Yes, it’s hard to work with an elder with dementia at Christmas, but it is also a blessing. Doing so could mean the elder is with us longer and happy to boot. That’s a great thing for the whole family.