Diwali and dementia

October 24, 2022

Ricky reflects on how Diwali celebrations have changed since his Gran was diagnosed with dementia.

Celebrating Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas has always been a special time for my family. It is known as the festival of light and a celebration of good triumphing over darkness and evil. We have family traditions that we carry out every year. We visit the Gurdwara and Mandir to listen to prayers during the day. We always light candles when we are there.

When we get home, we pray again and light candles around the home. We eat lots of food to celebrate and have fireworks in the garden to finish the evening off in style. Gran used to love hosting Diwali celebrations and was always happiest when the family was all together celebrating.

Ricky and his gran (on the left)

Gran doesn’t remember Diwali

Gran’s dementia is at the stage where she does not remember Diwali or any special occasions. She even has trouble understanding the difference between day and night. Gran will often ask for her evening meal during the afternoon and her short-term memory is eroding to the stage where she forgets she has just eaten her food.

It is really tough and fills me with sadness that we are not able to enjoy these special festivals the way we used to.

We still celebrate Diwali and include Gran where possible

We still celebrate Diwali, but Gran does not join us at the Gurdwara or Mandir. It is difficult for her to understand the reasons for our visit, and she would no longer be able to understand the prayers. We have also decided not to light candles while she is in the house with us. This is as a precaution for her safety as she may then try to do the same at her house or even touch the candle flame. Her safety is much more important than anything else.

We will still spend time together as a family and include Gran wherever possible, but it is just a different way to celebrate now. During the last few years, we haven’t had fireworks either – although this was due to the Covid Pandemic as well as Gran’s dementia.

We show Gran pictures from past Diwali celebrations

We try to explain the festival to Gran in the simplest way we can. The history and knowledge she had is no longer there and all we can do is to try to make her understand, but it is very difficult now. Showing her pictures and videos of previous years of the family celebrating Diwali has been a good way of involving her in this special time.

I would highly recommend that families in our position create photobooks. Putting together memories from previous years can be a good way to try to jog or access memories. You can sit down with your loved one and even if they find a connection or a little understanding with one of the photos, it is so worthwhile.

It is a blessing to be surrounded by your loved ones

It is not easy to fully enjoy these special days and festivals when Gran is sitting there not able to understand or remember them. But the fact that she can still be a part of the celebrations is truly special and worth celebrating.

Yes, we must adapt, I am sure it is the same for many other families. We all just have to remember to be thankful that we are still able to celebrate special moments together. It is a blessing to be surrounded by your loved ones.


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