Summer is here, and our calendars are filling up fast. Whether it's a holiday, a wedding, or graduation, a little extra planning can make the experience better for everyone! Small changes such as timing an event around your person with dementia's best time of day or limiting the number of guests can make the day smoother.
However, don't get so involved in planning you lose sight of the activity or occasion. The experience might not be like it used to be, but you can still find the special moments. Consider these recommendations:
Prior to the event:
Communicate with guests beforehand. Invite them to join you in making the day more manageable for the person with dementia. Explain to them that this may be a quieter occasion than previous ones.
Keep distractions to a minimum. Even beloved and well-mannered pets or small children can be bothersome to someone who isn't used to them.
Limit background noise. If music is part of your tradition, play it at times other than meals or during conversations.
Plan your event during a time of the day that works best for your person. Many people living with dementia are challenged late in the day, while others don't do well in the morning.
If the event is lengthy, arrange for your loved one to leave early or have quiet time or rest.
Make the most of "teachable moments" with young people before the day begins. Children love to feel helpful, so encourage them to think about how they could help their loved ones with dementia. For example, they could brainstorm activities that they could do together or put together a memory box.
During the event:
Honor your caregiver guests by "giving them a break" if possible. Allow the caregiver to connect with family members and get lots of support and love.
Designate a quiet area. Create a space where people can take turns visiting with Grandpa or Grandma one-on-one.
Focus on the things that the person with dementia can still do and acknowledge those that have become more difficult. If your person carried a family tradition, like carving the turkey, saying the blessing, or reciting a poem, try to find a way to do so this year.
Encourage reminiscing and storytelling. Use props like pictures, food, and decorations to trigger memories.
Capture memories. Take candid multi-generational photos or videos as they can be more touching and manageable than posed portraits.
Keep the table size small. Fewer people at the table might make conversation easier to follow and the environment less busy.
If you have a lot of people, consider setting two tables in separate areas. Far enough apart that you can't hear the conversation from the other.
Set the table with apparent color variations—white plates on a colored tablecloth or colored plates on a white cloth. People living with dementia often have depth perception and other vision issues.
Keeping place settings simple with less silverware, plates, and glasses to navigate helps everyone be successful.
Prepare in advance for caregivers to cut meat, butter bread, or otherwise prepare the plate before placing it on the table to avoid unsettling the person living with dementia.
Allow the person to do their best at the table without comment.
Surprise your guests with leftovers for at least one full meal. Caregivers will be extra delighted!