How to have a dementia-friendly family gathering
Family gatherings can be lots of fun, especially in the warmer months as we creep closer to Christmas and the smell of backyard barbecues fill the air.
For people living with dementia, though, being in a large group of people can be difficult – and it can be hard for loved ones to know how to help them feel comfortable. Here are 10 tips from us at Home Caring to help you throw a dementia-friendly family gathering.
1. Be mindful of the person’s routine
Changing routine can be stressful for a person living with dementia. If you can, be flexible with your meal-time and try to fit in with your loved one’s regular timetable. Also consider having a family lunch instead of dinner. People living with dementia can become more restless, confused or insecure at night, so a daytime get-together in a familiar place may be a better option.
2. Stick to somewhere familiar
It’s fun to mix it up sometimes and gather at a restaurant or new location, but keep in mind that unfamiliar environments can be stressful and overwhelming for someone with dementia. If possible, consider having your gathering somewhere familiar, such as someone’s home. This also provides easy access to a bathroom: one less thing to worry about.
3. Give them space to rest
Preparing food, hosting extended family and corralling kids at a family party can be stressful – for both the person with dementia and for you! Providing peaceful moments during the day can help your loved one feel less overwhelmed. If this is difficult, try setting aside a separate resting place in your house. A bedroom tucked away from the chaos (and close to a well-lit bathroom) gives someone with dementia a chance to take a break if they need it.
4. Be thoughtful and kind in conversation
The saying ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’ rings true here. If your loved one takes long time to respond in conversation or starts repeating themselves, be patient and kind. It also helps to speak slowly, pronounce your words clearly and use their name often in, as this can help the person maintain their concentration. Here are more tips from us on how to chat to someone living with dementia.
5. Prepare plenty of finger food
It wouldn’t be a family gathering without heaps of delicious food! Keep in mind that large servings can be challenging for someone who has difficulty eating or handling cutlery. Try preparing plenty of finger food that people can easily much on during the day, so everyone can enjoy eating with dignity.
6. Make your food stand out on the plate
Here’s another food related tip: for some people living with dementia, it can be difficult to visually distinguish the appearance of food from the plate, especially if everything is the same color. Use white plates instead of patterned ones to help the food stand out on the plate, and keep the table cloth or placement a contrasting color from the plate.
7. Provide small tasks everyone can help with
Helping with manageable tasks does wonders for the self-esteem, as it makes the person feel valuable and included. Depending on ability, ask your loved one whether they would like to help with manageable and safe tasks like preparing dishes, plating food, setting the table or folding napkins.
8. Use physical prompts to share memories together
Family gatherings are a great chance to reminisce and hear stories from the past. Have fun using tangible items to stimulate memory, such as looking through old photo albums, or watching old videos. Just remember to avoid detail-oriented questions that may put someone on the spot (e.g. “mum, do you remember our holiday to New Zealand?”). Keep the conversation open instead of singling out the person with dementia.
9. Remember the power of music
Does your loved one have a favorite hymn or song? Make a playlist to listen to together, or spend some time singing old tunes from their past. Research shows that music can awaken parts of the brain that are not impacted by dementia, evoking responses such as singing, humming or moments of re connection with loved ones.
10. Care for the carers too!
Caring for someone living with dementia is an all-consuming role. Don’t forget to show the carers in your family how much you appreciate the valuable work they do. Give them a chance to relax at your gathering by offering to spend time with your loved one. Helping them at meal time, sitting with them during the day and looking out for their needs will ensure their carer has a fun time too!