It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and expert Linda Harman is sharing her experiences of using scent and activities in dementia care during the festive season

The darker evenings can be unsettling for people coping with dementia. For me, though, the early setting of the sun is the cue to snuggle down indoors, light a fire and start the festive preparations.

To my children, a signal to start thinking about present buying is the Christmas cake aroma that pervades the house about this time of year. My mother, who has dementia, likes to join in or watch the activities and, fortunately, just regards the early darkness as a cue to go to bed! It’s as comfortable a place as any in which to relax on a winter’s evening…

As the temperature drops, colder air gives my husband an excuse to bring in a basket of logs and light a fire. On Sunday mum settled down in front of it with a coffee to hand, enjoying the warmth, the colour and the company as we waited for dinner. The scent of burning apple wood gently filled the room and she was calm and happy.

If log fires and baking are not your thing, there are still a lot that you can do to bring the scent of Christmas into your home and provide an enjoyable or calming activity for people with dementia.

There are many pot pourri packages available in garden centres and stores that feature the traditional heady scent of pine, cinnamon and nutmeg – real festive fragrances.

Touch is a powerful sense, too, and a sprig of pine to handle will release its fragrance onto your fingers, providing a sensory experience and an activity for busy fingers.

Another simple activity is to share a tangerine or clementine. Abundant across all shops at this time of year, these fruits are strongly associated with Christmas.

In the past oranges of any sort were a rare treat and the small, sweet Clementine was highly prized by children in the war years and shortly after. Peeling and separating the small segments is a simple, and very edible, fragrant activity that can be enjoyed by the senses and your palette!

The beauty of Christmas is that it is an experience that transcends eras – your loved one with dementia is likely to remember a Christmas from another time and take pleasure from the sensory experiences that it triggers. I believe everyone should enjoy the sights and smells of Christmas while it lasts!

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