If you close your eyes for a moment (after reading this sentence, that is) you should be able to conjure up fond or even not-to-fond memories of your mother – picking you up after a fall, cheering you on at a competition, giving you some timely life-changing advice. Sadly, it wouldn’t be uncommon for your mother to eventually lose all of those same memories to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, if she hasn’t already.
According to recent studies, more than seven million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Nearly two-thirds of them are women.
Needless to say, holidays like Mother's Day can be a challenging time for a mother living with Alzheimer’s. She may feel a sense of loss because of the changes being experienced as a result of the disease. Beloved traditions may have to be adjusted to accommodate new realities. And at the same time, many adult children and care-givers may not be certain how to celebrate a day that no longer holds any meaning for the honoree.
Yet, regardless of your mom’s particular circumstances, Mother's Day can remain a meaningful and enjoyable occasion for you and your family. Planning will take more thought and each family's unique circumstances will need to be taken into consideration. But chances are, Mom willl enjoy spending time with you or anyone who appreciates and pays attention to her.
Here are some tips from the Alzheimer's Association that can ensure a Mother’s Day celebration you both will enjoy:
You probably used to take Mom out on Mother’s Day to give her a day off from cooking. That tradition may no longer hold much importance if she lives in a Sunshine Retirement Living memory care community and has her meals made for her each day. If you do decide to go out, make sure she is comfortable with crowds and does well in a different setting than what she’s used to. If she’s agreeable to the idea, consider ordering for her, because she may not remember what her favorite foods are or what’s best for her to eat.
Either way, people with Alzheimer’s do best when following a schedule. So eat at Mom’s usual time, before she gets too hungry, and preferably in familiar surroundings. Sticking to her normal routine will help keep the day from becoming disruptive or confusing. And don't overdo it. If necessary, plan time for breaks so she can rest in a quiet area away from noise and crowds.
If going out doesn’t seem like a good idea, most Sunshine Retirement communities will be serving special Mother’s Day brunches that you’re both sure to enjoy. Or feel free to bring the meal to her from one of her favorite restaurants. Just don’t be afraid to reminisce about favorite foods and the memories you share surrounding special meals. While you’re at the facility, why not join in one of their group activities?
Your mom may not expect gifts for Mother’s Day any more, but they are always welcome. Especially those that stimulate the senses, such as flowers, a soft blanket, scented lotions, or a photo of the two of you together. Photo albums, ID bracelets and comfortable clothes also make nice gifts. But often, the best gift of all could be a CD or iPod of her favorite music that she can easily play. Music has more power to stimulate positive memories than anything else. Plus, it encourages movement and dancing.
Having a conversation with someone dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia can sometimes be difficult, which often presents a challenge on how to create a special moment. If your mother still has her long-term memory intact, as many people with dementia do, reminiscing about a past you share is a good way to connect. Consider looking at a photo album of a past trip you’ve taken together or some childhood events. Enter her world and share her reality.
If she talks about random things from the past – Elvis Presley, her brother or childhood dog, Queen Elizabeth – go along for the ride and see where the conversation goes. If she doesn’t recognize who you are, but has memories of a son or daughter, invite her to share them without explaining who you are. But if conversations aren’t going anywhere, then just find an activity you can do together successfully and enjoy the moment. Go for a walk. Do some gardening or a jigsaw puzzle together. Read a story or listen to music.
While watching someone you’ve loved all your life slowly slip away from you is understandably traumatic, try to acknowledge that the person who does exist is still a lovable human who needs compassion. Recognize that you still have a relationship with your mother in whatever form it may be. Nurture it and treasure every moment that you have left.
For more information and support, call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900. A trained social worker will be happy to answer your questions or concerns. Learn more about Alzheimer's in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center at alz.org/care. For more tips on supporting a family member with Alzheimer's, join the ALZConnected online community, and find more information about your local Alzheimer's Association chapter services and programs.