Celebrating Mother’s Day when mom has Alzheimer’s

Linda Walker & Dottie - Helpline

On Sunday, May 13, 85 million mothers across the United States will be honored on their special day, Mother’s Day. But the day often takes on a different feel for the families of the 5.7 million people – nearly two-thirds of them women – living with Alzheimer’s disease.

“The reality is that this devastating form of dementia disproportionately affects women,” said Danelle Hubbard, director of Family Services for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Women, often mothers themselves, also account for approximately two-thirds of the more than 16 million volunteer caregivers who provide unpaid care for their loved ones living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.”

For Denver resident Linda Walker, understanding how her mother will react to situations is important to making the day successful.

“We don’t take my mom out to eat very much anymore,” Walker said. “She doesn’t remember what she likes and doesn’t enjoy it. On Mother’s Day, my husband and I will bring her flowers and a present and some muffins and spend about an hour and a half with her. I know that five minutes after we’re gone, she won’t remember that we were there, but I try to make the time together special.”

Understanding that the person living with Alzheimer’s likely won’t remember the occasion doesn’t mean that families shouldn’t enjoy a suitable celebration.

“I got married in October and I was so happy that my mother could be there,” Walker said. “She doesn’t remember being there, but I can show her pictures of us together. I’m creating memories for me.”

Tailor your own Mother’s Day celebration

How families choose to celebrate Mother’s Day when mom has the disease depends on the person living with Alzheimer’s and the family’s unique situation, but there are ways to tailor the celebration so that it is enjoyed by all, particularly for mom.

“It’s important to recognize that crowds, noise and new environments may cause agitation or anxiety for the person living with dementia,” said Hubbard. “It’s important to be sensitive to mom’s needs and aware of how they are responding to the festivities.”

The Alzheimer’s Association offers families the following tips for celebrating Mother’s Day when mom is living with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Take a person-centered approach. Focus on what is enjoyable for the person with Alzheimer’s, such as looking at family pictures or enjoying the person’s favorite food. If they get overwhelmed in large groups, a small quiet gathering may be preferable.
  • Keep it simple. Consider a celebration over a lunch or brunch at home or where the person is most comfortable. Ask family or friends to bring dishes for a potluck meal or have food delivered by a local restaurant or grocery store.
  • Join in. If the person with Alzheimer’s lives in a care facility, consider joining in any facility-planned activities.
  • Don’t overdo it. Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the day from becoming disruptive or confusing.Depending on the person’s stamina, plan time for breaks so the person can rest in a quiet area away from noise and crowds.
  • Adapt gift giving. Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with Alzheimer’s. Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Ideas include: an identification bracelet, comfortable clothing, favorite foods and photo albums.
  • Educate yourself/find support. Learn more about Alzheimer’s in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center at org/care. There you can also find more tips on supporting a family member with Alzheimer’s, join the ALZConnected online community, and find more information about Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter services and programs. Or call the free 24/7 Alzheimer’s Association Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Alzheimer’s statistics: National

  • 7 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia
  • More than 16 million people in the U.S. provided 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care for loved ones in 2017
  • Alzheimer’s is the 6th-leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Alzheimer’s is the only major disease without a prevention, treatment or cure
  • The total cost of caring for people living with Alzheimer’s will top $277 billion in 2018

Alzheimer’s statistics: Colorado

  • More than 71,000 Coloradans are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia
  • Nearly a quarter of a million Coloradans are providing unpaid care for loved ones living with dementia
  • 1,612 Coloradans died from Alzheimer’s in 2015 (the last year measured)
  • Alzheimer’s deaths have increased 126% since 2000, while deaths from other major diseases have declined

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