Celebrating important birthdays can be confusing and unsettling for you and your loved one with dementia. It’s not that they don’t want to celebrate their birthday – it may be that they can’t remember when their birthday is or what happens when it’s someone’s birthday.
Here are some ideas about celebrating a loved one’s birthday when they have a dementia diagnosis.
Organizing a celebration
Living with dementia doesn’t affect memory function alone; it also affects physical and emotional functions. For someone who perhaps used to love being the center of attention and was the life of the party, to now becoming anxious and uncomfortable around lots of people, maybe quite upsetting. However, feeling overwhelmed by lots of noise is quite common for someone living with dementia, due to the condition affecting hearing and being able to distinguish between different voices in a conversation.
Having friends and family over for a barbeque or get-together may seem like a fairly low-key celebration, but this could simply be too much for your loved one. The visuoperceptual difficulties also associated with dementia can mean that an over-stimulating environment makes it difficult to focus or concentrate. If possible, invite a reduced number of friends and family over for short periods of time and make sure that you have a quiet space for your loved one to rest if the situation becomes overwhelming.
If you are arranging a small gathering, perhaps create finger food such as sandwiches with their favorite filling, chopped up pieces of fruit or sausage rolls. Not only will bite-sized food encourage them to eat, but also brightly colored food that’s easily accessible will help them if they struggle to use cutlery or to distinguish foods among a plate of similar looking items.
Each birthday is cause for a celebration, but milestone birthdays can be a chance to show your loved one just how special and valued they are. The temptation may be to really spoil them and treat them to a gathering at a special restaurant, along with showering them with lots of gifts.
For those living with early-onset dementia, going somewhere new with lots of people may be over stimulating. If you do want to take your loved one out as a treat, it may be worth visiting their favorite restaurant or pub where they are familiar with the food and staff rather than trying something new or extravagant.
Those with more advanced dementia may find it difficult to leave their home and struggle with more recent memories – they may not even be aware of how old they are. It’s most likely that they are living in the past, and in their mind are 30 years old instead of 90 years old. Imagine being told that you’re older than you think you are and that your partner is no longer here – it would be extremely upsetting and distressing, possibly causing frustration and aggression. It’s important to remember to live in their ‘reality’ and instead of reminding them of their milestone age, stick to generic birthday decorations and language instead.
Selecting the right gift
We love to capture the joy of birthdays and instead of concentrating on the here and now, reminiscing on times past could mean much more than a pair of socks or slippers. A scrapbook or memory photo board is a great way to look back on some great times and even get to know your loved one a bit better. You could include anything from photos of family holidays to cards they received years ago, or maybe even write down the lyrics to some of their favorite songs from their teenage years that they can sing along to.
If your loved one used to make fresh-baked bread, perhaps you could find a recipe for their favorite loaf and bake it with them. Or perhaps they loved planting hyacinths in their younger years, which are known for their beautiful fragrance. Buying them some bulbs and helping them to plant and nurture them could also be great for their coordination and something for you to do together.
Helping you through the process
If your parent or loved one has dementia and needs more help than you can provide, contact Oasis Senior Advisors for assistance. We offer resources for seniors and their families, as well as support and guidance every step of the way so you can feel confident in your senior housing selection. Deciding to make the move to a long-term care community is an emotional, financial, and physically taxing process, but you don’t have to do it alone.