Tag Archives: Christmas

Smile For a While and Let’s Be Jolly…

My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile
My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile

The Cheshire Cat may have been onto something. Accounts differ as to what inspired Lewis Carroll to use the smiling cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the majority agrees that he certainly made it famous. A multitude of studies has recently shown that smiling actually changes your brain (in a good way).

That is really good news for those who suffer from some form of dementia, who, along with Alice might find themselves in a strange and confusing world where nothing appears real and everyone seems to be a bit mad. They may also feel frightened and lonely and wish they could simply tap their ruby slippers together three times and go home again….wait; I’ve mixed up my stories. Suffice it to say, dementia is not a pleasant world to live in.

Those caring for loved ones who suffer from dementia may also find themselves living in a strange and lonely world. People they once had lively and meaningful conversations with can no longer chat and may not even recognize them. My Mama, who was smart, witty and a wonderful conversationalist, lost the ability to recognize me in the early stages of her battle with dementia.

This is the time of year when dark feelings of loneliness and depression can magnify – how ironic since the holidays are usually portrayed by scenes of happy family and friends getting together. Of course, the contrast between what is depicted and reality may be a contributing influence in the sadness factor. That, combined with what is referred to as Winter Blues (when days are short), can cause many caregivers to experience feelings of hopelessness.

Back to the smiles

<em><strong>My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.</strong></em>
My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.

Smiles are also contagious; if you smile at someone, they smile, and then you both get a little happier–which can be especially good news for caregivers. Try smiling at your loved one several times throughout your day and watch how they respond.  Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden concluded that frowning when looking at someone smiling is possible, but would be very difficult.

What if you don’t feel like smiling?

Senia, age 4

But wait, there’s more! According to HealthHub.com, smiles– even fake smiles do a lot more than simply let the world know you’re happy. It turns out that there is also a whole host of health benefits to smiling. In an article titled, “15 of the best and free health benefits of smiling” including heart health, pain and stress reduction as well as an increase in productivity and longevity.

Everyone feels depressed now and then, and this is not meant to be a flippant post on the subject. Issues such as sadness and depression are not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is experiencing sadness that won’t go away, MentalHelp.net has some good advice on When To Seek Professional Help And Where To Find Help For Major Depression.

The takeaway here is that smiles might just be the best Christmas gift you can give out all season long…and best of all, they’re free!



"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01GAG2ZMS
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

It’s beginning to look , (smell & sound) a lot like Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas decorations.

🎼Jingle Bells, Yuletide smells, Christmas on display – bringing back the memories of a long past Christmas day.

A Christmas tree trimmed with old fashioned decorations and stockings hung by the fire along with the wonderful smells of gingerbread mingling with the sharp fragrance of pine and familiar songs of the season all work together to invoke memories of Christmas past.  Our senses are doorways through which memories can flow.

According to an article in LiveScience.com, Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed: Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study in rats suggests why: The same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories…Previously, scientists had not considered these sensory brain regions all that important for housing emotional memories, said study researcher Benedetto Sacchetti, of the National Institute of Neuroscience in Turin, Italy.

Since the Christmas season is chalk-full of sensory delights, this is the perfect time to take advantage of anything that could stir up memories in your loved one.

For example, if making gingerbread houses or gingerbread men was a beloved annual tradition, then the smell of gingerbread baking or the sight of a gingerbread house could trigger fond emotional memories of happy times past.

The Christmas wreath on our front door.

Pine trees are another seasonal smell that is fairly easy to come by this time of the year– even just a few boughs can produce that wonderful fragrance.

According to Fifth Sense, The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

Besides smells, the sights associated with Christmas such as decorated trees, poinsettias and twinkling lights might provoke a sense of joy accompanied by a memory or two of yesteryear.

Sounds abound as well this time of the year. Christmas songs and hymns are ring out everywhere you go – stores, coffee shops and even offices. Churches sing many of the beloved Christmas hymns and if your loved one has attended church prior to developing dementia, going to a service will provide a plethora of sights, sounds and smells of the season.

Since the senses are connected to memories, it is possible to provide your loved one with memory-triggering pleasures year around, but at Christmas, it is almost as if the whole world is in this process with you. So as much as possible, take the time to enjoy the sweet-smelling, merry, twinkling, singing most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Activity ideas to help when your loved-one is bored or fidgety

I remember watching my grandma twiddle her thumbs back when I was a little girl. It fascinated me. She did it all the time – usually while she was sitting in her favorite chair and either visiting or watching TV. She told me it was good to have something for your hands to do while you were waiting. That made sense to me and I remember trying to copy her when she wasn’t looking. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal now, but back when I was very young, teaching my thumbs to twiddle felt like a huge accomplishment.

finishing-well-in-life-twiddle
This one is from AbuelaVicky found at Etsy.com.

It turns out that no matter how old you become, it is still good to have something for your hands to do. Last year I wrote a post called For that Fidgety Feeling” about something called Fidgety quilts. I loved the idea.

When my Mama lived with us while she was in the middle stages of dementia, she constantly needed something to do. Prior to the onset of dementia, she both knitted and crocheted. But as her dementia became more and more pronounced, she found it difficult to maintain any type of ongoing focus.  She would quickly become bored and forget what she was working on.

Fidgety fighters

We kept her busy with short-term activities such as folding warm towels, sorting colored beads into small bowls

BizzieLizzieKnits
This one is from BizzieLizzieKnits found on Etsy.com

according to their color, and one of her favorites: picking lint off of sweaters. Before dementia struck, Mama was very detail oriented. It made sense as she was a laboratory scientist and paying attention to details was extremely important.

If I had heard about fidgety quilts back then, I believe that Mama would have loved the idea. The fact that they don’t require any special skills or knowledge to play with the various ribbons, buttons and interesting items attached to the quilts makes them perfect for every ability level.

I recently watched a short news video on BBC titled: “Lancashire knitters ‘twiddle muffs’ dementia tool plea” where there was a plea for area knitters to make and donate “twiddle muffs” to local hospitals. The muffs are a great idea – especially if you are a knitter. If you don’t knit, you can still purchase a Twiddle muff for your loved one. They seem to be a bit less expensive as well as more portable than the ‘Fidgety Quilt’ so would make a marvelous Christmas present for a loved one who tends to get fidgety.

Twiddle Kitty
Twiddle Kitty

Once you begin to look, you will discover a whole world of items designed to help give loved ones’ fingers something to do and perhaps reduce periods of agitation.

If you happen to be a knitter perhaps you might consider creating a few extra twiddle muffs to bless someone who could use a thoughtful and helpful gift this Christmas season.