Successfully navigating large gatherings with a loved one who has dementia, can be difficult. We can take steps to make the visit less stressful and thereby happier for all involved.
I'm not gonna sugarcoat it or pretend I have it all under control. For one thing, many of you have been with me long enough to know that just isn't true. I try, (really hard,) but sometimes I still blow it. Maybe you can relate?
Mom has vascular dementia, so our large family gatherings are challenging. I refuse to leave her out of them. I want her to be with family as much as possible, even when she no longer recognizes the people she has rocked as babies, laughed and cried with through the years, and attended all sorts of life events to show them that "Nanny loves you."
She is a constant reminder of God's faithfulness.
That may seem impossible to some of you since she has dementia, but please let me explain.
Here's my mom with one of her babies. Look at that sweet smile. She is almost always smiling, humming pieces of a song, or dancing a jig down the hallway.
She refers to everyone as honey, sweety, or Bubba for the guys. Mom is overflowing with love, and everyone feels it.
She still talks to God, and I know He comforts her. He's never too busy for any of his children.
Large gatherings require some thought and extra preparation, but it is time well spent.
Here's what I do:
Since I generally host, I enlist my brother, Mitch, to get mom and keep her company until the meal is ready.
I fill her plate first, asking her if she'd like some of each dish I know she likes. (It's more a gesture of respect on my part. I could fill her plate without asking her anything as I know her likes and dislikes, but I allow her a choice)
When she answers with something that makes no sense, I ignore it and pretend to understand.
I sit her at the big table next to me so I can help her. I'm her security blanket, so I try to stay nearby.
Mom loves her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but their noise makes her nervous. As a result, all the kids eat in a nearby room to minimize agitation.
A person with dementia cannot prioritize sounds and can be easily startled. A crowd talking is too difficult to follow for them. It's best to converse one-on-one and look straight at her when talking to her.
When she's finished eating or if she's too distracted to eat, I move her to a quiet room where she can focus. Family members go in one or two at a time to visit with her and take pictures.
This has been a massive success for us. It lets mom visit, focus, and love on everyone a few at a time, and it's also memorable for the family members.
I keep a constant watch over mom. When I see she's too tired, I take her to the restroom and then to the bedroom for a nap.
She can sleep, decompress, and build up some more energy.
Usually, after her nap, she's ready to visit again.
If the weather is nice, kids are encouraged to play outside. The less noise, the better.
I hope these tips help you have a more enjoyable visit!
I pray we include and honor our elderly whenever possible, recognizing it isn't always feasible.
If gatherings are too upsetting for your loved one, I suggest each family visit alone or without children if that's a trigger.
Our loved ones aren't trying to be difficult; they are having a difficult time. Everything they do requires more brain energy, which tires the body.
What do you do to make large gatherings more dementia friendly?