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Memorial Day: Making Memories For Those With Dementia

...if you have gatherings with friends and family, such as Memorial Day picnics (indoors or out) you can bring a few items to not only keep your loved one interested and interacting with others but make the gathering more fun for everyone!

As we approach Memorial Day many will be gathering with family and enjoying the outdoors. Those who have family members with dementia, whether from Alzheimer’s or other reasons, need to take this opportunity to make their own day special.

The focus of Memorial Day is “memories” and ironically that’s the one area that seems to slip away from those who are aging with dementia. However, if you have family gathering for one day out of the special weekend [here are] some ways to bring your loved one into the action without causing upheaval.

Some things to remember when you are dealing with a dementia patient:

  • Let those you know and will be with during your picnic or celebration that your loved one is suffering from dementia. Ask for an extra set of eyes to make sure that your loved one doesn’t wander. This will let you drop your own guard a little bit.

  • Take the time to introduce your loved one to everyone they are sitting by. Remind them who the person is and if possible, what relation they are to the person. They may not remember but they won’t feel as lost if you continue to address people by name.

  • Remind them who people are. Tell others that when they approach your loved one to let them know who they are, even if they’ve been “introduced” a number of times throughout the day.

  • Make sure that before you leave your home your loved one has their clothing marked with their name & your cell phone (which should be kept with you at all times). If they should wander away & the police find them they will look for information on their clothing. If at all possible, have an ID bracelet made for them that is fairly difficult for them to get off. If you can get them to wear [it] all of the time as a part of their daily outfit, it can be a life saver. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. [A] bracelet engraved with the words Dementia Patient – Call XXX-XXX-XXXX and if possible their first name [is sufficient.]. Basically you want to make sure that if they wander off and are found, someone understands that they are a dementia patient and who they belong to.

  • Bring items that will keep your loved one busy. Remember that it is often like taking a toddler with you. Most parents would pack a bag of items needed for their child to keep them busy; the same should apply during outings with dementia patients. The best part is you can actually get everyone involved with keeping your loved one “busy” with some ideas we’ve listed below.

Memory Activities can be a great thing for those suffering with dementia. Often, if you have gatherings with friends and family, such as Memorial Day picnics (indoors or out) you can bring a few items to not only keep your loved one interested and interacting with others but make the gathering more fun for everyone!

Here are some great Memory Activities to take along or have others prepare for your family gathering:

  • Bring a small sized photo album – if you know who will be attending ahead of time you can make sure both old and new pictures of these people are in the photo book. Label the pictures so that your loved one can actually play a memory game with others and see who can tell who the picture is of. You will be surprised how many discussions, memories, and laughter will come from this one simple item. It will also let your loved one feel less focused upon because often they will hear others say “I didn’t know that was cousin Joe!” or “Oh my gosh Aunt Marge looks so different now!”

  • A deck of cards can provide a fun memory game. If you can, use cards that mean something to your loved one that you have made – pictures of their home, pictures of animals, etc. and have 2 of each. Lay them out in rows & let everyone have fun trying to remember where the pictures or cards that match are at. You’ll be surprised how people will walk up and join in, giving your loved one a sense of normality. You can also bring card games like UNO© and help them play the right cards. If you need to “adjust” the rules you can. Instead of concentrating on both color and numbers you can say just the same color can be played. Deal fewer cards so they don’t get overwhelmed and even allow people to lay their cards on the table. The idea isn’t really to win but to have fun playing and keeping busy. This also allows children to get involved if your loved one can handle being around children.

  • Art comes in many forms; whether musical, painted, drawn, or sketched. If you find that your loved one responds positively to either music or artistic stimulation think about bringing something as simple as some non-toxic paint (Crayola® makes some great, inexpensive paint sets) and some paper. Have adults and kids alike paint the colors they see (don’t give them anything specific) and see what not only your loved one but lots of people around them are taking in. The positive benefit is that with multi-generational artistic attempts nobody is going to feel out of place.

  • Music – If you know someone that can bring an instrument your loved one may be lulled by soft, unassuming music. If possible have someone bring a guitar or even a tabletop keyboard and play music from your loved ones most memorable days. If nobody has any musical talents they can bring then the old fashioned “boom box” never goes out of style. Create a CD that brings in number of generations from the days of when your loved one was a youngster to some remakes that are more recent. Keep the music low so you don’t over stimulate.

The most important thing this Memorial Day is to make as many memories as you can with [your family, friends], and your loved one who is suffering from dementia. While it’s understandable to simply keep “safe” inside and not want to venture out, a little planning ahead and explanation can make your Memorial Day truly memorable & safe.

Be careful to set time limits based upon how your loved one acts at various times of the day.

If you have someone suffering from Alzheimer’s their dementia may kick in at a specific time of day. Plan ahead for optimal time to have your loved one being active & stick to that time plan.

If Memorial Day is at Your House:

  • Ask for help.

  • Don’t take on the task of providing all the food and entertainment, etc. Instead have everyone bring a dish & a cooler of the types of drinks you wish to have there.

  • Make sure people know that there are strict time limits and ask for close family to stay after to help you deal with cleaning up.

  • Make your loved one a part of the preparation. Make one dish that the two of you create the day before and it doesn’t necessarily have to be “homemade” to make it yours. Together you can literally empty a large container of store bought macaroni or potato salad and then have your loved one stir it. Give them a handful of paprika to sprinkle across the top or boil some eggs for them to slice with a plastic knife and place across the top. They will feel as though they are participating in the action and making a difference.

Most of all don’t overdo things with your loved one. Everyone knows that they are suffering from dementia and will have to understand being asked the same question over and over, etc. If you see that your loved one is becoming agitated or hard to control simply excuse yourselves and go home or take them inside to the area they feel most comfortable.

The positive side is that you will have some time with friends and family, some time when others are keeping an eye on your loved one and most of all, a small piece of normal life as it may have once been.

No Plans? Make the Day Special Together

If you’re not able to get together with others, perhaps you can make your own memorable Memorial Day by sitting with your loved one and creating a collage of pictures that will help them remember loved ones in their life.

Memory Matters wishes you and your family a safe and Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

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