Or maybe not!
As I was doing some of my own holiday decorating and listening to my Christmas music, it occurred to me that maybe many of you are not familiar with some of the holiday decorating do’s and don’ts for dementia, so here are a few tips:
1. Are you aware that many of the popular Christmas plants are actually poisonous?! From most toxic to least toxic are: Christmas Cactus, Holly, Mistletoe, Amaryllis, Poinsettias, and Christmas Trees. Yes, even Christmas Trees are poisonous! The ill effects of these plants range from mild stomach issues to vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, heart arrithmeas, blood pressure changes, heart failure, and even death. So, depending upon your loved one’s level of cognitive loss and potential to see a holly berry as a tasty treat, you may want to consider purchasing a fake version of these or at least make sure that these plants are out of harms way/reach.
2. What would Christmas be without the scents of the season? A lot less toxic. As with the plants listed above, I would also caution in using many of the overpowering Christmas scents in liquid or candle forms for several reasons: the temptation to drink them is there, the temptation to eat them is there, the temptation to light them is there. Scent is important and the olfactory nerves are fantastic gateways to memory so use them wisely and safely. There are many ways to get the Christmas scent in your home without the safety issues including: electric candles, automatic scent machines/sprayers (keep these out of reach), spraying scents on dryer sheets or other materials, and nothing beats the natural scents of cooking (homemade apple pie comes to mind).
3. Put away some of the lights. The Christmas season would not be the Christmas season without all of the lights, but sometimes we can go a bit overboard. Remember that individuals with dementia are already dealing with an overwhelming and over-stimulating world – don’t make it worse by putting up all of the colorful flashing lights! Use softer lights and fewer of them. And, although you may think that the lights and sound reindeer that sings “Grandma got run over…” is funny, your loved one is likely to get annoyed/irritated easily by it (so skip it please).
4. If your loved one lives in a community setting such as a nursing home or an assisted living, remember that these places have their own rules about decorations (usually mandated by the State and the building’s fire codes). Some places do not allow for real trees or wreaths and have restrictions on lights, extension cords, and fragrance machines. Make sure that you know what these rules are and follow them.
5. Allow your loved one to be part of the decorating process. If s/he cannot physically decorate, ask for his/her opinion on where to put things, etc. If s/he cannot mentally assist in decoration but physically can, hand him/her an item and point where it goes. The beauty in decorating is not in the finished product, but in the memories made in the process.