Kids with grandpa who has dementia June 16, 2020 10:15 am

Celebrating holidays during a pandemic is not easy for anyone, much less when dad has dementia. You may be left wondering how to celebrate in a meaningful way. You are not alone. About 15.7 million family caregivers care for someone who has dementia. [Alzheimer’s Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.]

Father’s Day is a time to honor your father and celebrate all that he has done. Even with dementia, your Dad can still find enjoyment in you and the time you spend together.

Human nature compels us to explore fresh experiences throughout our lives. Despite the pervasive misconception, dad has dementia doesn’t equate to the cessation of learning.

In fact, individuals grappling with dementia can still forge new memories and acquire novel skills, especially in environments designed to facilitate meaningful engagement. Dad has dementia, but that doesn’t mean his capacity for growth and learning has come to an end.

Science suggests that the human brain is wired for connection and, even with dementia, that does not change.

Simply spending time with your Dad can have a positive neurological impact.

For example, holding his hand stimulates several sensory and neurological response centers in the brain. Reminiscing with him about the past stimulates emotional centers in the neocortex.

Providing intellectual stimulation fosters neurogenesis and may often lead to cognitive improvement.

So, how can you celebrate together?

First, start with a plan:

  • Who will be visiting
  • What gifts might they bring
  • Where will you gather
  • How would you like to spend the time?

Your plan doesn’t need to be elaborate, but having a vision for how the day will look will aid in your success. Remember, when working with dementia, keeping things simple is key.

Suggestions as you consider your options:

  • Family Visits:

    • Grandchildren and pets often trigger positive emotions, even for people with late stage or non-verbal dementia, but it may be overwhelming to have everyone visit at once. Consider creating a visiting schedule to stagger visits throughout the day. Keep in mind that Dad may get more tired as the day progresses.
  • Timing:

    • Since many people with dementia may experience memory fatigue in the early morning and Sundowning in the evening, early to mid-afternoon is an ideal time for visits. Mealtimes may be the most difficult time to successfully visit as Dad may feel overwhelmed and be unable to enjoy his meal and socialize at the same time.
  • Location:

    • Where you visit Dad is just as important as when. Try to select a location without a lot of distractions such as background noise or frequent walkers passing by. Visiting with Dad in a place that is most comfortable to him, like his favorite sitting room or a quiet area outside in the shade, will result in the best possible visit.
  • Pace:

    • For someone with dementia, it often takes more time to respond. Be patient and plan plenty of time for your visit. Start with simple small-talk and work towards a more in-depth conversation. The brain often needs time to warm up before it takes on too much information so ramping up to a deeper conversation with some small-talk will get Dad off to a better start.
  • Covid-19:

    • Not everyone will be able to see their fathers in person this year. Visits may require social distancing or may need to take place virtually. Even if you can’t be together physically, do your best to make the most of your visit.

If you can arrange a video chat, keep these tips in mind because they do still apply.

Reminiscing over fond memories is still a great way to connect emotionally even when physical touch is not an option.

Create the plan for your visit as a team with your spouse, children, siblings, Mom, healthcare professional – whoever will be there — so that you all are on the same page. Remember, you are not in this alone. Caring for a loved one with dementia takes a village, so do not hesitate to ask for help.

Next, consider how you can make this Father’s Day celebration special. Yes, people with dementia have a difficult time remembering; however, in most cases their emotional memory stays intact. Simple actions like giving Dad a hug, telling him a joke, or kissing him on the cheek are very powerful and impactful.

Reminiscing can be as simple as talking about the things he used to enjoy doing.

Having trouble figuring out what to talk about? Photos, beloved objects, and stories (also known as somatic cues) are excellent ways to spark a conversation.

If you want to bring Dad a gift, think of an object that will inspire conversation or something with which he identifies.

How about a fishing pole – even if he may not use it for fishing, a safeguarded tool set, or a model of his favorite car?

You may also want to consider bringing something that you can do together like a small birdhouse-building kit, a crossword puzzle book, or a model car kit – remember, keep it simple.

Lastly and most importantly, enjoy your time with your father. Yes, it may be different than how you have celebrated in the past, and it might not go precisely as you plan; but if you remember to stay present and focus on feelings of gratitude for your time together, then you and your Dad will cherish every moment. Happy Father’s Day!

For more tips on how to celebrate with a loved one who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, or for further information about our unique Memory Care Communities please contact CERTUS Premier Memory Care Living at or by calling (407) 757-7597.

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