Occupational therapist Sam Dondi Smith shares some tips and ideas for making Mother’s Day as enjoyable as possible
Since the 17th century, Mother’s Day has been an opportunity to honour our mums and thank them for supporting us. As an Occupational Therapist with a special interest in dementia care, I wanted to share a few thoughts about how you can connect with a loved one who has dementia on this special day.
One of the challenges of dementia is that our loved one’s ability to verbally communicate may deteriorate. This deterioration can leave relatives struggling to interact and mourning the loss of a good conversation. People have often asked me, ‘What can I do when I go and see Mum?’ It’s a legitimate question – it’s certainly sad to see someone who used to enjoy ‘chewing the fat’ now unable to do so. But what’s the answer? Well, believe there’s always an answer and the answer comes in the shape of ‘doing.’
Whilst the person you love may not be able to interact ‘off the cuff’ they will usually still enjoy engaging in a shared activity. Obviously, what you chose to do will depend on their level of cognitive functioning and physical mobility. It may, for example, be an activity such as visiting somewhere together or it might involve something less demanding such as watching a film or listening to music. But whatever you choose to do it should be something that is meaningful to them. For my mother, it may be an activity such as completing a puzzle or doing some gardening. For your mum it could be baking a cake together or making her Afternoon Tea.
For those whose impairment is more severe then it may be a very simple activity such as listening to their favourite music, going through some old photographs or even giving them a hand massage. Whatever you do, and no matter how advanced their condition, I believe that there is always a way to engage with a person with dementia, it‘s just a question of finding the right one to suit their current level of functioning – and their personal taste
3 Top Tips for Mother’s Day
1. Try not to base your expectations on how they used to act before the dementia. Instead, realise that they have changed, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
2. If she keeps repeating herself, try to avoid pointing this out. Repetitive behaviours can be a sign of insecurity, so instead try to work out what she might be worried about.
3. If you go out and she behaves in a way that embarrasses you, try to stay calm. She might be feeling uncomfortable, stressed, insecure or overwhelmed by noise – all of these things can trigger behaviour that’s inappropriate or out of character.
5 Activities to try together
1. Get stuck into a puzzle.
2. Look at some photographs and get talking about old memories – remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity.
3. Invite other members of the close family round for a cuppa (though not too many as this can be overwhelming)
4. Sew some seeds into pots – it’s time to get tomatoes, brassicas and potatoes in!
5. If the weather permits then get outside and have a walk!
Have a great day!
Sam is an Occupational Therapist and founder of InteractiveMe – A secure online tool used to prompt memories and improve interactions between care staff and your loved one. Start your loved one’s online memory box at www.interactiveme.org.uk.