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Holidays Create Special Opportunities for People Living with Dementia

The spirit of Christmas is all around us and with it are the magical moments that light up all of our senses and create joy: the smells of gingerbread cookies and turkey stuffing; familiar Christmas carols; the excitement of Santa sightings and snow; the warmth of a card from a loved one; and even a first kiss under the mistletoe. It’s a time loaded with traditions that we gather up over our journey of life, and these treasured memories sit tucked away inside us for a very long time. It is exactly for this reason that the holidays can be extra special for loved ones living with dementia. We know that long after our speech fails us, our other senses stay strong and alive and in fact, can become golden pathways for enriching connections and renewed joy.

Like many Canadians, I too have been touched by dementia in my personal life and came to understand as a child how hard it can be to relate at times to a loved one who seems very different from the parent you once knew. I’ve carried that experience into my professional career where over the past 15 years I’ve been dedicated to seniors’ care and have worked extensively with people with dementia. My appreciation for the importance of creating connections to the person with dementia has greatly expanded. While communication is sometimes challenging, particularly if speech is no longer, we need to remember that there are other pathways to reach the resident’s spirit and their joy.

At Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre, we embrace the Christmas season and all it offers. Like other care homes, there are many festive activities for the residents and families to enjoy while exploring new communication pathways using the smells, sounds and sights of the season.

Visits from family, friends and volunteers are always important in care homes and especially at this time of year. The feeling of these special familiar relationships creates a sense of comfort and an opportunity to reminisce about holidays past. Since traditions are often passed down from generation to generation, visitors also find a sense of ease in establishing a connection in this way. Perhaps you went on an evening drive every Sunday to look at the Christmas lights, or helped bake cookies with Grandma, or sang songs by the piano. Emotions from those memories often connect a person living with dementia to a sense of purpose and meaning, even safety, all leading to a feeling of being needed and loved.

However, this is a very busy time for everyone and it may not be possible to fit in visits. You should take comfort knowing that the home is bustling with activities and the people involved also provide enriching connections. “The people who work or volunteer in residential care understand this reality and they truly are gems at supporting your loved one, even if you can’t be there. We are blessed to have so many caring hearts and hands on our Team!” says Mary McDougall, President of Trellis Seniors Services Ltd., corporate manager for Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre.

As we bid farewell to 2016 and celebrate the arrival of a new year, we give thanks for the joy this season brings and are excited about continuing our work towards enriching connections. On January 18th and February 8th, we welcome family members of our residents to join us for “Dementia Dialogues” that will be hosted by Alzheimer Society of B.C. at Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre. We can all gain by better understanding these transitions in life.

Happy Holidays,
Sandra Lewis, MSW, RSW, General Manager, Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre

Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre provides personal care and nursing services to 130 seniors living in Kamloops, BC.

Photos courtesy of Shelly Cantelo.

This story was first published in Kamloops This Week on December 20, 2016.

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