A Guide to Celebrating Father’s Day with Alzheimers

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Fathers Day Holidays of any kind can be a difficult time for a family living with Alzheimer’s disease, or any memory loss issues.

Father’s Day is no exception. No one wants to ignore the special day, or the love they still feel for their Dad. Yet we’re mindful not to cause any additional anxiety or distress. And while others around us share their fun days and loving words on social media it can only serve to make us feel sad or grieve for those family traditions that we are losing.

However it is possible to celebrate the national day, if we just approach it in a different way. Here, Olympic Lifts take a closer look at how you can still enjoy the day with your father, without confusion or distress.

Gifts

If you do want to give a physical gift, then it’s quite easy to keep this tradition and simply augment it from what you would usually do. So for example where once you might have bought a new tie or a golf glove, now it’s about the old rather than the new. Tapping into older memories is a great way to help your Dad feel comfortable and remember good times.

Old favourite DVDs are good to sit quietly together and watch. But if you want to encourage conversation, think about creating a memory book or bringing an old item - like a golf club - and asking questions about the sport and your Dad’s favourite moments. A lot of memory loss illnesses begin by taking the most recent memories first so the older ones are often still there and joyful to talk about.

Time

Gifts, and indeed material things of any kind, become less important when you’re facing a life altering condition like Alzheimer’s or Dementia. People can become lonely, withdrawn or confused. That is why the greatest gift you can give is your time. Simply sitting with them without judgements or questions can be a comfort, even if they can’t explain who you are. Your Dad will know that he is loved by people and he is not on this journey alone.

A great way to engage in conversation without distress is to ask for guidance on things that they still do have the answers to. Perhaps gardening, or car mechanics. If you’re a parent yourself it can be wonderful to ask your Dad about his experience of parenthood. Memory loss may take their recent recollections first but it doesn’t take their wisdom and they will enjoy being able to speak confidently and authoritatively again.

Sensory

The senses have a profound impact on the brain and stimulating the right ones can trigger reward centres and just generally make us feel calmer. Listening to your Dad’s favourite music is a lovely experience, and it’s not unheard of for people with memory loss to recall the words to entire songs from long ago. Dancing too releases stress and creates a new connection between you. Cooking an old favourite meal is another cool thing to do together, a sociable activity with a purpose that isn’t too stressful to do. Smells and tastes can be enjoyed while you talk about food in general or reminisce about old memories of meals shared.

Touch is another powerful sense that is often lost to Alzheimer’s as people become more physically distant than they once were. Even if hugging seems uncomfortable or strange, a simple touch of the hand or on the shoulder can show your Dad that you care. Just sitting close and holding eye contact can be helpful, too. Affection in any form is a beautiful connection between two people.

Play

Small physical activities are a fun way to spend time together on Father’s Day. Maybe your Dad enjoyed chess, pool, darts or playing cards. All of these activities can be adapted for many of the stages of memory loss. But also, a lot of the memories related to them remain because of simplicity or procedural memory.

When conversations are hard, asking questions around an activity or favourite sport is a great way to get chat flowing and allow your Dad to immerse himself in his favourite pastimes of old. If your Dad is already in an assisted living home, they may be organising games and activities on Father’s Day already, so ask about them and get involved.

Memories

Of course Alzheimer’s and other memory loss illnesses don’t always leave us in a place of postcard-perfect moments. Sometimes there are very real issues that get in the way of your ability to spend time with your Dad. Whether its hallucinations, anger, or serious physical decline, these symptoms can make spending time together increasingly difficult for your Dad, and you. In those times, Father’s Day can seem painful.

But if you can’t be together, it’s important to spend time healing yourself. Look at photos, recall happy memories, talk to someone. But this time, instead of working through what is challenging or hurting you, make an effort to focus on the positive when you talk. To remember your Dad for who he was, and remember the happy times together. To strengthen the respect and love for him through your pain. Those memories will power you through as you care for your Dad.

Overall, just focus on what he can do, and what you can still enjoy together, not what he can’t do. Try to be mindful of the timing of your plans (so avoid early morning and late evening when fatigue can be setting in). Sensitively approach the day with respect to routine and not overwhelming your Dad with commotion in a sensory way. And simply try to avoid negative feelings like resentment towards others who aren't facing your challenges. Embrace your new normal, find the joys in the little moments and appreciate that you still have this time together where others don’t.

All those things together should help to make for a more enjoyable time together for you and your Dad with Alzheimer’s on Father’s Day.

Bio:

Olympic Stairlifts were the first company to be awarded Stannah’s Certificate of Excellence, assuring customers of the high standard of safety management and training they have provided over the last 30 years.

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