An elderly woman in the final stages of dementia has moved Santa to tears during an emotional photo shoot with the man in red.

Karen Rangel, 86, who suffers from severe memory loss, stunned family when she remembered who Santa Claus was while at a mall in New Mexico.

Family had taken her out of hospice care for the day to make a special visit to see Santa.

Rangel's face lit up when she suddenly remembered who he was, cuddling and embracing Santa.

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Her family watched in awe at how she suddenly returned to life as she saw Father Christmas.

"She recognised him, and she talked to him and even afterward she was saying, 'I miss Santa. I want to see Santa'," her daughter-in-law Linda Rangel told Fox News.

Karen Rangel's love for Santa started when decades ago, her son says. Photo / The hartsocks' Photography
Karen Rangel's love for Santa started when decades ago, her son says. Photo / The hartsocks' Photography

Hartsocks' Photography, the company who took the photos, said Santa cried when the woman left.

"Every time Santa got close to her, she would nuzzle in and close her eyes as if there was no place she would rather be," the studio wrote on its Facebook page.

"It was so sweet and emotional for Santa and our whole staff."

The photography company took to Facebook to share the heartwarming moment.

"Santa's favorite visitor this Christmas! I think Karen is in love and so is Santa", the photo agency wrote on Facebook.

"Karen absolutely loves Santa. Her whole life she has been his biggest fan. She's been going to the mall to see him and her family told us she would flirt with him. Karen has a special Santa doll she sleeps with and doesn't talk to much these days, but enjoys speaking to her Santa doll in Japanese. So, her loving family brought her to see the real Santa at our studio this Christmas.

"Karen visited our Santa yesterday (he gave her a special gift, a handmade Busy Blanket created just for her) and she talked to him. She told him that she loves him and remembers visiting him before! It couldn't have possibly been more special.

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"Every time Santa he got close to her, she would nuzzle in and close her eyes as if there was no place she would rather be. It was so sweet and emotional for Santa and our whole staff. (Santa held it together through her shoot, but cried when she left.) She will always be Santa's favourite client and ours, too. There wasn't a dry eye in the studio during her visit."

The post prompted a barrage of comments by viewers who were moved by the photo.

Ericka Candelaria DeCourcey wrote: "I think that we all have been touched by dementia in our families. I'm glad that you were able to bring some Christmas magic to Karen and her family."

Dawn Menza said: "This brings joy to my heart. My mom passed away a year ago from Alzehimer's and in her final stages of life it was the things she enjoyed as a child that put a smile on her face. What a beautiful moment to treasure."