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In New Zealand, nearly two thirds of adult New Zealanders have some personal experience with dementia, so chances are, it could even happen to Santa! With millions of children to remember, reindeer to command, and an entire globe to navigate in one night – it’s a big job for the man who is eagerly awaited by many around the world.

But what if Santa did develop Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia? He might drop the wrong presents to the wrong homes, he could get a child’s name wrong on the Christmas tag, he could get lost over the Pacific Ocean – gosh, he could forgot Christmas altogether.

This week, Dementia New Zealand has launched a new website asking the question “What if Santa forgot Christmas?” as part of an effort to encourage Kiwis to take time over the holiday period to look out for early warning signs of dementia in those they care about.

“It could be anything from the same question being repeated, to difficulty performing familiar everyday tasks,” says Lisa Burns, spokesperson for Dementia NZ. “Early detection and diagnosis can make a world of difference for everyone involved.”

Burns says other key warning signs include problems with language, disorientation to time and place and poor or decreased judgement. “For example, imagine it’s the evening of the 24th of December and Santa is still in his slippers and dressing gown with his cup of coffee. It’s out of character for him, he would usually be loading the sleigh and preparing to deliver presents to children all over the world,” she says.

When it comes to caregivers who are supporting someone with dementia this Christmas, Lisa says planning and communication is key.

“It’s important to hold everything lightly at this time of year, and know that your Christmas plans may need to be adapted based on the needs of the person with dementia. Involve them, keep things simple and familiar and remind everyone to be patient.”

Lisa also suggests having Christmas celebrations in the person’s home or a place that they regularly visit so it is familiar. “This will avoid disorientation and make for a more relaxed Christmas.”

Jocelyn Weatherall, Chair of Dementia New Zealand says that the holiday season is a good time to have conversations with family and friends around dementia. “If we can talk openly about dementia we can help break the stigma and fear associated with this condition.”

To find out more about Dementia New Zealand’s Remember December campaign visit rememberdecember.nz

Anyone concerned about changes in memory or dementia are encouraged to get in touch with their GP, health professional or call Dementia New Zealand’s helpline on 0800 433 636.

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