As we grow, our childlike perceptions of the world are usually overlaid by the perceptions of an increasingly maturing person. It’s not that we forget what we knew as a child—it’s that the way we perceive it changes. Childhood memories can be preserved but perception is still full of wonder; my early childhood memories were preserved in a special way. They haven’t evolved into a grown-up person’s perceptions. They kept their magic.
Holidays preserve magic in the same way. There are special foods, decorations, songs, and traditions that we only bring out at that particular time. Because they’re not integrated into our everyday lives throughout the year, they have a unique power to create and to revive memories. The holiday season is all about memories, and if someone in your family has cognitive decline, it’s a balancing act to both create memories and preserve them.
Holidays that only come once a year allow us to step out of the daily flow of time and connect to the past - but this doesn’t happen automatically, it’s triggered by sensory experiences. In fact, the more senses that are involved, the more deeply the memory hits us emotionally. There’s something about a pure sensory experience that bypasses the rational mind and embeds itself deeply in the psyche. By paying special attention to the five senses, we can tap into the natural memory-triggering power of our traditions in a way that’s especially suitable for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Taste and Smells
Start with tastes and smells. There’s a reason why most holidays revolve around food! This is the time to break out Grandma’s recipes. Filling the house with smells is filling the house with memories. Find out if there is a special treat your loved one enjoyed as a child. Even if it’s not sold in stores, you may be able to order it. There are whole businesses, for example, devoted to nostalgic candy.