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This is how my dad celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Put a hat on his head and he is transformed - the day becomes magical. The other day Dad and I were walking back "to the house" (otherwise known as his room a few steps down the hall) when he announced "Let's go in there" - the activities room.
No activities were taking place, not a single person was in the room - but it was bright, sunny, and welcoming nonetheless. Also, there were hats on the counter - remnants of the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Dad stopped to admire them so I placed one on his head, then chose one for myself.
This ushered in a spontaneous and lively dance!
Approximately fifteen minutes later, Dad and I made it back to "the house" after quite the audience assembled in the activities room to witness our shenanigans. A staff member turned on music while another videotaped this priceless memory - one I neither planned nor facilitated. It just happened - largely due to the fact I didn't have an agenda and was not in a rush, which would certainly have resulted in a denial to Dad's request to go in the room at all.
Some of the most precious moments with our loved ones just happen - while the most stressful are often painstakingly planned. Memorial Day ushers in summer, as well as get-togethers, which can be extremely frustrating for those with dementia. We must purposely rethink how we plan celebrations in order to make them more enjoyable for our loved ones. No longer can they manage large groups and grand productions as they once did.
I asked my friend, who cares for her mother-in-law in their home, to share her most successful tips for family gatherings. They have a large extended family, complete with a beautiful collection of grandchildren, who get together often. She believes it is important to help our loved ones navigate these events - this mean someone being by their side. They will need help finding their way through unfamiliar surroundings, as well as making sense of once familiar faces.
Freely offer names as guests are greeted.
"Oh, look, Mom - here's your grandson, Jimmy!" Especially women with ever-changing hairstyles may be hard to place. Above all, don't make your loved one guess - and don't get your feelings hurt if they do not seem to remember you! The goal is to enjoy the moment at hand, not to quiz these folks about the past or what they know. Think of this as an opportunity to create feelings of delight and joy for your loved one.
It is a good idea to secure a private room beforehand where your loved one can retreat to rest during the event. The constant noise of large groups, as well as the challenge of conversation, can be especially overwhelming. Dietary restrictions may also be challenging at events where food is readily available. My friend makes sure to plate her diabetic mother-in-law's meal and family members know not to give her seconds without asking first.
A tremendous amount of thought and planning must go into a successful event. Are medications packed? Is our loved one clean and appropriately dressed? Have the days leading up to the get-together been low-key so they are rested? My friend makes sure her mother-in-law's clothing and accessories, as well as her own, are chosen the day before. This insures the morning's preparations have a better chance of running smoothly.
Despite all the planning - your loved one is best suited for the moment at hand.
Although we are charged with anticipating and planning for get-togethers, our loved ones will not handle the litany of future details well. If the event is presented too far in advance, often those with dementia will have anxiety over who will be there and confusion over when the event is taking place. Allow your loved one to live in the moment while you carefully consider the future details.
The goal is to create a peaceful, unhurried environment. The less stressful the situation is for us the more peaceful we will be. This will result in being better equipped to guide our loved ones through the inevitable challenges of the day. In this way, they are afforded the best opportunity for a successful and enjoyable celebration. May your holiday planning afford many beautiful, spontaneous moments!
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