Does Santa Have Early Stage Alzheimer's? The Pros and the Cons

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    What if Santa has Alzheimer’s disease? I admit that I’ve never thought about it, but Bill Clark, a columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune, may have a point.


    Clark suggests that if Santa misses stopping at your house on his regular rounds tonight, it may not be because you’ve been naught (or nice, for that matter).

    “He has a history that shows seven symptoms of dementia,” Clark wrote. “He’s a prime candidate for cognitive evaluation — and don’t let the “ho-ho-ho” fool you. He might be masking depression.”


    According to Clark, these seven indicators include:

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    • Santa continually works from lists and often forgets them.
    • Santa continually wears the same red suit with a white collar and cuffs and boots.
    • Santa relies on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to lead him on the same route that he’s always travelled.
    •  Santa is really old. Just remember that it was 1822 when “The Night Before Christmas” was penned.
    • Santa always asks the same questions about whether you’ve been good and what you want for Christmas.
    • Santa’s obese with a big belly.
    • Santa gets confused. “He takes the chimney instead of the front door and calls musical instruments ‘rooty-toot-toot’ and ‘rummy-tum-tum,’ Clark stated.

    Yes, Clark may make a good argument that Santa may need to be assessed. But there are some signs that his memory is still intact.


    Let me give you some examples based on my mom’s experiences.  When was struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she would forget words and how things were meant to be used. For instance, she had completed shopping when she went out to her van and couldn’t remember how to use the remote car unlock on her key chain. She had to go back into the store and ask a cashier how to open the van.


    Compare that with Santa’s situation. Not only does he not forget how to start his sleigh up, but he never forgets the names of his reindeer. His consistent call is “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”


    And whereas Mom would forget what she was doing in the middle of a project that she had easily handled before, Santa was focused and on task. “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk.  And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose. He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.”


    And although Clark mentions Santa’s penchant for lists, I have to admit that I live by those lists (as well as my smart phone’s calendar and other organizational tools) and I regularly check and update them. So I don’t put too much stock in that concern.


    However, Clark is right about being concerned about Santa’s size. A 2009 longitudinal study out of Israel provided a statistical association between mid-life weight gain and late-life dementia. So perhaps Mrs. Claus should cut down on the number of sugar cookies she bakes at the North Pole for Santa to enjoy. And Santa also should join the elves in hoisting those bags of toys into the sleigh in order to get some exercise.


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    Santa also should put his pipe down and quit smoking. A 2010 study found that heavy smoking in midlife more than doubles a person’s odds of developing Alzheimer’s. The study by Kaiser Permanente found that people who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day had a 157% greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than non-smokers. These smokers also had a 172% higher risk of developing vascular dementia.


    I hope I’ve eased your fears about Santa. Just don’t forget to leave an orange instead of a plate of cookies as Santa’s treat tonight. Merry Christmas!

Published On: December 24, 2011