A Christmas Story.

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It was time to set up the Christmas trees around the community. I feared that I would have to do it all myself, and the task was daunting. Boxes and boxes of ornaments, lights, and decorations were piled up in our outdoor shed. 

After the main tree had been set up in the foyer, I stood staring at it. There were probably 100 ornaments to sort through, and I knew it would take me forever. Just then, one of my residents, Dorothy*, walked by. 

“Oh, what a lovely tree,” she said.

“Dorothy, do you want to help me decorate?” I asked, hopeful.

Dorothy is one of our community’s retired teachers, but she also has a knack for planning events and decorating. 

Over the next 45 minutes, Dorothy sorted, hung, and arranged ornaments and lights. “Why don’t we put a bunch of these red ornaments in a ceramic bowl and put it on the table here? That would look nice,” she suggested. “Oh, and how about these reindeer? Let’s put these here.”

She was right. I felt like a decorator’s apprentice, and i was more than happy to feel that way. When a person with dementia is doing a task that they love and understand, it’s almost as though their cognitive challenges evaporate. Talking to Dorothy and watching her decorate was like watching a professional at work. Her movements were smooth and deliberate; her eyes keen and experienced. 

The foyer looked beautiful. 

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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