It can be difficult and bittersweet to have a traditional Father's Day when your dad has dementia. Many people who have dads affected by the disease often wonder if they should celebrate the day.
Regardless of his condition, it is important to celebrate and honor your father as it can be a special day for both of you.
Gifts such as toiletries, gift cards and movie DVDs are popular presents dads may enjoy. However, while the tendency is to purchase a nice gift, keep in mind that material items become less important to him as his disease progresses. He has most likely become more withdrawn and confused.
The greatest gift you can give him is the gift of your time. Just spending time with him, conversing without judgments or questions, can offer reassurance to him and make him feel loved, secure and comfortable.
If you're planning a special celebration, think about your dad's routine and the time of day when he is more alert, rested and fed. Schedule activities around that time preferably.
It is better to plan a small event without a lot of external stimulation that might make your dad anxious, confused or upset. Try to plan something he particularly responds to and takes pleasure in — something that can build his self-esteem. For instance, if your dad participated in sports, such as football, you might want to try putting a football in his hand and allowing him to tell stories of the big games he played in his life.
Use sensory activities to promote meaningful moments and connect with your dad. Even though he may be unaware of the significance of the day, you can incorporate things throughout the day that can trigger memories and spark conversation. For instance, just listening to his favorite music can bring him joy, and it is not uncommon that he would recall all the words to the old songs, so a singalong might bring a smile to his face. Dance together, not only to release stress, but also to create new connections between both of you. Cook his favorite meal together, recalling the smells and tastes of dishes he loves. Hold his hand or touch his shoulder, as touching is a powerful sense that is often lost to Alzheimer's because individuals become more physically distant than they once were.
Keep your expectations reasonable and meet your dad where he is in the disease process; i.e., what he still can do instead of what the disease has done to him.
Though it may be heartbreaking for you that your dad doesn't remember you on a day celebrating his fatherhood, you can have simple joys in just spending time with him and appreciating who he has been for you. Focus on him and the present moment you share together and treasure those meaningful connections you can create.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at email@example.com.