I would be remiss not to also emphasize the need for us to fix some of our own memories in our minds. Whether you are a caregiver, or someone who is simply concerned with memory issues. This season is a fabulous time to ‘set’ some of our own Christmas experiences into more permanent memories.
How? The secret is: Be sense-conscious with as many different senses at a time during this sensory-rich season of the year. Studies have shown that using multiple senses at the same time actually works the best to help improve memory retention.
The Christmas season is filled with a multitude of sense-tickling treats. This is a good time to do something unusual or surprising for your brain. Whether you are by yourself or gathered with others, if possible, take a moment to sit down close your eyes. Try to identify what you hear and what you smell along with how you feel when you experience each of those things.
Examples might be: take in the sharp whiff of fresh cut pine, the soft alluring aroma of freshly baked cookies or simply the compelling combination of cooking smells emanating from the Christmas dinner. Listen to the sound of conversation, laughter, and familiar songs are all possible memory markers.
Don’t forget to also engage your emotions. If you include your feelings, you are more likely you are to remember something. All of these areas working together will help make your brain sit up and take notice. When it does, you release a natural growth hormone called neurotrophins, which enhances your brain’s fitness levels. Each time you open a new circuit, or a neural pathway, you do what amounts to mental sit-ups, but without the exertion.
What are some of your favorite ‘Senses of the Season’?
If you are still wondering what to get someone who due to dementia might forget the gift shortly after receiving it, I just may have stumbled across the perfect answer. I just received an email about something called ‘Fidget Quilts‘ . It looks like I’m a bit late to the party, as these don’t seem to be a new idea, but since I hadn’t heard about them before, I thought it might help others as well.
Fidget quilts are similar to the activity blankets created for babies to help keep them busy and improve motor skills using fun things like crinkle balls, zippers, buttons as well as other shiny and colorful objects.
Folks with dementia, or any type of cognitive impairment can become anxious or agitated with a change of location such as a doctor visit, hospital or a move to a care facility. The idea behind the fidget quilts is to provide something close at hand to give the hands something to do and hopefully provide the mind with enough of a distraction to allow it to get a bit of rest.
If you sew, or know a seamstress, it might be fun to design something for your loved-one that might be calming. To help out with ideas, a wide variety of examples can be found on Pintrest. If you don’t sew, there are a lot of places to order them online such as an Alzheimers Support page as well as Etsy.com and Amazon.com.
After doing a bit of clicking around the internet, I have discovered a whole world of ‘fiddle’ items available: Twiddle Muffs, Fiddle Cushions, Activity Aprons, Bibs, Twiddle Critters and even nut and bolt boards. All splendid ideas. The only caution I have found regarding this is that (just as with a baby), you want to make sure that everything is securely attached.
Have you found an activity that helps your loved-one with fidgeting hands? Or have an experience with the Fidget Quilt? Please share with us what you have learned.
One of the wonderful things about this time of the year is that it is steeped in all the essential elements that help stir and awaken the areas in our brains that have to do with memory.
Songs. After my Mama was unable to carry on a conversation or even speak, she was still able to sing. On good days, I could pull one of her ‘heart songs’ out of her. Perhaps it is because, as my husband says, “Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.” Heart songs are special. Not every song learned becomes a ‘heart song’, only the ones that somehow get embedded into the fabric of our souls. Of all the songs that a person might learn over the course of their lifetime, Christmas songs are very likely on the list. Whether your loved one believes that Jesus is the reason for the Season, or Santa Clause is coming to town, find out what songs stir, and awaken the music inside.
Smells. Recent studies have shown there is indeed a benefit to smelling: The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches. The Christmas season brings with it a whole gaggle of smells. From freshly cut pine, to warm Christmas cookies and a host of other, unique fragrances and aromas that arise during this time of the year. Do you have memories of certain smells associated with Christmas? If your loved one is your parent, perhaps those would be the ones to begin with.
Visual memories. Just as ‘music serves as a potent trigger for retrieving memories’, decorate, or collect bits and pieces that may stimulate a lifetime of Christmas memories. Did your loved one have favorite Christmas decorations? If you don’t know, perhaps ask family members or try the standard items that might trigger nostalgia such as garland, poinsettias and lights and bells. Memory Museums are popping up in many places that seem to help patients return to long-term memories of childhood and growing up.
If you are not already incorporating any of these suggestions, give them a try during this Christmas season. Of course, the nice thing about caring for someone who is no longer reading a calendar, Christmas could happen on a very regular basis.
Please share your Christmas season songs, smells and memories with us