Having a loved one affected by dementia dulls many aspects of daily life, so when special occasions come along, putting together a celebration may be the last thing on your mind. Between the stress of planning a special day and a progressing dementia diagnosis, celebrating holidays like Father’s Day may seem pointless.
However, this is not the case.
Even if your father does not recognize the holiday to be in his honour, the spirit of celebration can really boost his mood and replace some of the frustration and confusion with moments of positivity and amusement. Just because they cannot express themselves like they used to, it is still worthwhile to make our fathers feel extra special (or at least try).
With dementia, your father will not be exactly like his old self, but his personality is still there! Think of his unique love language or how he likes to be shown affection. Then, spend the day coming into his world and showering him with love the way HE wants.
Depending on the type and stage of dementia your father is affected by, your celebration will vary. For inspiration, try some of these ideas and modify each according to your father’s interests and capability.
Where should you go?
1- Depending on your father’s situation, large crowds, loud noises and unfamiliar places may cause anxiety. On the other hand, your dad could be a social butterfly and love company. For a happy medium, try people-watching from a distance on a balcony or patio, or join him wherever he feels comfortable, like his living room or garden.
2- In the summer, you also can’t go wrong spending time outdoors in familiar places. Perhaps your dad has a favourite park, beach or golf course where he would enjoy going for a walk or being active. When thinking of the outdoors, it is important to consider your father’s mobility and think ahead to ensure on-site accessibility.
3- Go for a drive and stop for ice cream. You must know your dad’s favourite ice cream flavour (right?), and what better way to bond with your father than relaxing in the car, listening to music, enjoying the view.
What can you do?
1- In the morning, let them choose their outfit for the day, and provide encouragement after they have done so — you might be surprised by what they pick — just ensure that it is weather-appropriate.
2- Throughout the day, play his favourite tunes. Perhaps your father loves classical music or maybe he once dreamt of being a rock star. Play what you know he likes and don’t be afraid of throwing back to his boy band days. If for any reason throughout the day you stumble upon a tough moment, music can be a powerful mood booster for people with dementia. It can have a calming effect and set familiarity.
To further delight your father on his special day, coming out with his favourite foods or cooking up some nostalgic flavours will probably put a big smile on his face.
3- Human beings are wired for connection- including the most introverted people. Therefore, pets and grandchildren can make a great addition to the day, even for those in later stages of dementia. The trick is simply to avoid the chaos that can leave your loved one feeling overwhelmed. Instead, try creating a visiting schedule for family and friends to break up visits over the entire weekend.
4- If you fancy staying home, try cleaning out the closet or garage — your father may have already downsized, but going through meaningful items that you can attach stories to will give you a chance to bond, as one should on Father’s Day.
5- In the evening, remind him about his amazing qualities, all the dad jokes he told, and all the wonderful things he has done- even if he doesn’t quite remember them. You might find him asking questions about his past and you might just get to hear a brand-new story from your childhood.
What should you give?
Thoughtful ‘Father’s Day’ gifts can provide your dad with items he needs but may not purchase himself. If your father is in a later stage of dementia, it is difficult to predict his reaction, so don’t be surprised if he is less than enthusiastic upon receiving the surprise.
1- A superb gift involves books written for older adults with dementia. Whether your father can read independently or requires your help, there are books designed especially for your loved one such as “Blue Sky, White Clouds” by Eliezer Sobel or “The Sunshine On My Face” by Lydia Burdick and Jane Freeman, as well as many others.
2- If your father gets agitated often, consider gifting him a home diffuser with calming essential oils. Aromatherapy has been found to cultivate calming sensations in people agitated by dementia, which could be a suitable alternative to music to stimulate the senses and create a joyous ambience.
3- Get your father smarter clothes. Laceless shoes, button-down tops, loose-fitting pants, patternless garments and wide-brimmed hats are all splendid gifts. Remember that solid colours are the way to go since patterns can cause confusion and unrest in people affected by dementia.
By now, you should no longer be questioning whether you will do something on Father’s Day. In fact, you are most likely just making a mental list of all the things you’d like to do.
Remember, just keep it simple. It is all about your loved one, so if your father wakes up in a grim mood, be patient and warm up a conversation. If happens to be a rainy day, stay home and make lemonade. For all the lemons life has given you, it is important to be grateful. Whether or not he shows it, your father will appreciate it.
Orii McDermott, Martin Orrell & Hanne Mette Ridder (2014) The importance of music for people with dementia: the perspectives of people with dementia, family carers, staff and music therapists, Aging & Mental Health, 18:6, 706–716, DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2013.875124
Vernooij-Dassen, M., & Jeon, Y. (2016). Social health and dementia: The power of human capabilities. International Psychogeriatrics, 28(5), 701–703. doi:10.1017/S1041610216000260
Lee SY. [The effect of lavender aromatherapy on cognitive function, emotion, and aggressive behavior of elderly with dementia]. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005 Apr;35(2):303–12. Korean. doi: 10.4040/jkan.2005.35.2.303. PMID: 15860944.
Marlène Mélon, Stefan Agrigoroaei, Anya Diekmann & Olivier Luminet (2018) The holiday-related predictors of wellbeing in seniors, Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 10:3, 221–240, DOI: 10.1080/19407963.2018.1470184