Including Loved Ones with Dementia in Family Events
June is here and that means weddings, graduations, commencements and a host of other happy events. If you have loved ones with dementia, though, the excitement can be mixed with a lot of apprehension. How can we successfully include them in all the excitement?
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Alzheimer’s and dementia present differently in different people. There are, however, some general “dos and don’ts” you can follow that will help make the event go as smoothly as possible.
Do keep an eye on them.
Set up a rotation so that there’s always someone who’s responsible for keeping an eye on your loved one, even if they seem okay. Dementia can make people do some really unexpected things, especially if the event is taking place in an unfamiliar setting. If your loved one is in the early stages, still keep an eye on them but try not to be too conspicuous about it.
Do prepare them.
Sit down with your loved one a few days before the event. Talk about what’s going to be happening. If it’s a graduation or wedding, show them pictures from similar events in the past. If your loved one lives in a skilled nursing facility, tell them who will be picking them up, when and in what type of vehicle.
If you’re speaking to your loved one at the event and they’re not grasping what you’re saying, don’t raise your voice. It won’t help, and it might make your loved one feel threatened or pressured. The issue isn’t volume, it’s processing, so you can try speaking more slowly. If it doesn’t work though, just let it go.
Do let loved ones with dementia participate.
When the event is one where everyone’s helping out – like a pot luck dinner or barbecue – include your loved one in the prep. If they’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking, give them jobs in the kitchen. If they’ve always been the one to setup, let them do what they can do. Almost any activity can be adapted with some extra thought.
Don’t contradict them.
If your loved one tells everyone a story and gets the details wrong, don’t correct them. And if they tell a story they’ve made up out of whole cloth, don’t tell them that either. Just react appropriately to the content and allow them to feel good about themselves.
Do go with their flow.
Your loved one doesn’t recognize you? Just tell them who you are. Don’t sweat it if you need to repeat yourself, and avoid comments like “I just told you” and “don’t you remember me?” If they’re sure you’re their older sister, go with it. If they think you’re their old roommate from college, go with it. Your goal is for them to stay calm, be happy and enjoy the event. Consequently, reality doesn’t really matter (and you won’t convince them anyway).
Don’t let your loved one go hungry.
Hunger and dementia are not a good mix. If you’re the one picking your loved one up for the event, come a bit earlier and make sure they’ve eaten something. If they live in an assisted living or skilled nursing community, talk to the staff ahead of time so they know to give your loved one a snack. It might sound like a small detail, but it prevents your loved one from getting impatient while waiting for the food – which will make the event more pleasant for them, and for you.
Have you successfully included a loved one with dementia in your family’s events? Please share your experiences in the comments below.