3 Tips for Including Loved Ones with Dementia in Family Gatherings

As we get older, participating in social activities can become more demanding and stressful. When dementia is added into the mix, it can become even more challenging. Ideally, we want to be able to include our loved ones in family gatherings for as long as possible. Those with dementia often still enjoy being social, and the joy of being at the event will persist even after the visit is forgotten. 

Dementia can affect behaviour and personality, but there are ways we can continue to accommodate these changes. Here are three recommended tips on how to include your loved ones with dementia in social gatherings.

Have a Discussion With Other Family Members

As a caregiver, you can help your family members understand how to interact with your loved one with dementia. Many family members worry about the situation but may be unaware of how to talk to a person with dementia. Here are some things you can let your family know in advance:

  • Do not be upset if the individual with dementia does not know who you are. Introduce yourself by your name and your relationship with them.
  • Refrain from arguing or correcting them. If your loved one thinks you’re their sister, just go with it.
  • Your loved ones may repeat themselves, and that’s okay. Avoid saying “I just told you that”, or “don’t you remember?”. That can confuse them and make them upset.
  • If you become uncomfortable talking to them it’s okay to politely excuse yourself.

You can stay close to your loved one and help facilitate conversations with family members. Your loved one may become confused or agitated with people coming and going; remaining by their side will allow them to have a constant, reassuring presence.

Scheduling is Important

Scheduling the gathering at a time of day that is best for your loved one is highly recommended. Many people with dementia experience sundowning, which makes it difficult to relax or interrelate as the sun goes down. Gatherings in the morning and early afternoon tend to work better.

Keeping the gathering small is also suggested. Small groups make it easier on your loved one, as noisy situations and competing, conversations can be confusing or frustrating. If it is not possible to keep the gathering small, arrange an area that will be safe and comfortable for your loved one to hang out. Most people with dementia can’t tolerate stimulation for long periods of time, so plan on them staying for only an hour or two.

Respond Immediately to Signs of Anxiety or Agitation

Even with your best efforts, your loved one may end up experiencing anxiety. It could be because of the new environment, or because of certain people or conversations. We can’t control these things, but we are able to respond quickly.

  • Take your loved one to a quiet room and reassure them that everything is okay
  • If they were upset by something or someone they think was at the get together (but in reality was not) assure them that that person left and won’t return
  • Remember you cannot argue or change the perceptions of those with dementia, but you can comfort or reassure them.
  • If you must leave the party then do so. If the event is at your home, let your guests know you’ll be with your loved ones in a quiet space and stay with them until the event is over

As the disease progresses, you may want to consider having a personal caregiver join you. Including a loved one in family gatherings for as long as possible is beneficial to their overall health. A care provider can help with taking care of personal needs, helping the person eat, and can be wonderful at keeping conversations at a place of comfort for your loved one. Their calming presence can allow you to mingle without guilt, and if there are any challenges with anxiety or agitation the care provider can let you know.

It is important to try to include our loved ones, even if it doesn’t work out every time. Those with dementia deserve to have enjoyable experiences, and the feelings of warmth and love will remain even once the event is past.

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