What makes Christmas special for you?    For me, thinking about Christmas is like turning a diamond in my fingers and seeing the brilliance of each facet.  There’s the Christmas worship music, especially Handel’s Messiah at full volume; the church services, the carol ‘O Holy Night’ with the line that says, ‘long lay the world in sin and sorrow pining, then He appeared and the soul knows its worth’,  choosing the gifts (and wishing someone else could do the wrapping because I’m so useless at it) and being together with ‘my folk’.  It’s the coming together, the celebrating of Christmases past and present – together.  

It’s the being together that makes Christmas special, appreciated even more after last year’s Covid separation.  And being together, sharing those memories can be a special blessing for people with dementia and their families.  We all have a stack of Christmases  stored in our long term memories.  When these memories are stimulated in people with dementia it helps restore the person’s sense of identity and strengthen their faith.

We’ve produced a ‘fun’ thing that families and friends can do together, that reinforces that process.  We’ve produced a new Christmas edition of our ‘Brain and Soul Boosting for Seniors’ (BSBS).  The BSBS programme is run in faith groups, churches, family homes, sheltered housing and by chaplains in some hospitals, with very good results.  Feedback tell us how leaders have seem  improvements in mental thinking (cognition) and spiritual wellbeing, including those without dementia – but especially older people living with it.

BSBS sessions prompt discussion and uses ‘guided discovery’ in a way that stimulates memories for people with dementia or cognitive impairment, while at the same time sociable and faith affirming.  Sessions lead to levels of contentment that can sometimes help people step through the fog and reappear as their old selves for a little while.  A wife said about her husband, ‘He doesn’t usually say much, but afterwards he began talking with us.’

The Christmas special is based on the biblical story of the Nativity, with relevant Scriptures, and includes suggestions for activities to do together, ending with a reflection and closing prayer.  This year’s Christmas BSBS leaflet is available for download, free of charge, from our website at https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/resources/brain-and-soul-boosting-for-seniors-at-christmas

There are also a few other lovely new things families and faith groups can do together.   Two are jigsaw puzzles, based on Psalm 34 and Psalm 150.  https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/resources/jigsaw-gods-word-in-gods-world

And a new picture book, ‘God’s Word in God’s World,’ that is elegant enough to be a coffee table book for people of every age – but it’s loved by people living with dementia.  Each picture captures a part of God’s creation and is captioned with a Scripture verse. It was the brainchild of a daughter who used to visit her father when he lived in one of our care homes.  He loved looking at the pictures and hearing her read the captions.  The book is now blessing hundreds in the same way.  It’s obtainable at – – https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/resources/gods-word-in-gods-world 

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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