Mother’s Day is a special day for most families, and that makes it particularly difficult when Mom is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is difficult for the person with dementia because they may not understand why things are different, and it is difficult for family and loved ones because they struggle trying to determine how to celebrate the day.
With a bit of thought and planning, there is no reason that Mother’s Day cannot be celebrated in an enjoyable and meaningful way, but you may have to think about it differently.
While giving gifts is enjoyable for both the gift giver and recipient, it is not (or shouldn’t be) the essence of celebrating Mother’s Day with someone with dementia. More important is engaging the person in meaningful activity, giving them the opportunity to be successful and to feel proud.
Some general ideas that apply to celebrating with a loved one with dementia include:
Think about what the person likes and focus on that. Offer their favorite food and/or drink, do activities that they enjoy - look at family photos, listen to her favorite music, watch her favorite television show or movie. This will take some preparation in advance of the day so that you have the materials at hand. Remember, it’s about what Mom likes and what will make her feel happy and satisfied, not what you want.
Keep it Simple
If the person gets overwhelmed in large groups, keep the celebration small. Have the celebration in a place where the person is comfortable rather than a busy, crowded restaurant. Stay with routine – Keeping to the person’s normal routine as much as possible will make the celebration less confusing. Have the meal at the usual time, cleanup in the usual way. Plan for rest time so that the person can get away to a quiet, familiar area.
Give Appropriate Gifts
If you want to give gifts, make sure that they are appropriate and meaningful. Gifts do not have to be expensive or elaborate – it is more important that they are of interest to the person, that the person is capable of using the gift and that it is meaningful to them. A favorite perfume, chocolate for someone with a sweet tooth (if safe for them), or favorite flowers may be appropriate. Other ideas may include suitable puzzles, games, or other activities that are of interest to them. See our article “The Art of Choosing a Gift for Someone with Dementia” for more thoughts on gift-giving.
Don’t Take it Personally
If the person doesn’t react the way you expect, or the way that you want them to react, don’t get upset. Understand what they are feeling and make it a positive for them even if it wasn’t what you thought would happen. This article “The Fine Art of Dining with Dementia” tells of a man’s desire to make his great-grandmother her favorite butterscotch cream pie and the unexpected outcome.
Rethinking Mother’s Day
As dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, progresses more recent memories may be lost while much older ones are retained. This gives us reason to rethink the whole Mother’s Day paradigm.
It is quite possible that the person has more memories of her own childhood with her mother than memories of being a mother herself. She may not be able to describe or connect with memories of her children when they were young, or remember things that they did together, but she may recollect things that she did with her mother quite clearly. That means that it may be more appropriate and meaningful to start your Mother’s Day by celebrating the person’s mother.
Use family photos of her as a child to encourage discussion about her mother and things that they did together. Find other photos from that era such as fashion, streetscapes or advertisements to talk about and encourage reminiscing about those times. Perhaps talk about famous mothers from television such as June Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver”, Harriet Nelson from “Ozzie and Harriet”, Donna Stone from the “Donna Reed Show” or Margaret Anderson from “Father Knows Best”.
As the reminiscing progresses, it may move to more recent photos and memories, but if not, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that the conversation is fun and interesting for Mom. Make the day special by paying attention to the person’s needs, following their cues and making the day what they want, which may not necessarily be what you had planned.
That’s what the celebration is about.