How to honor Dad on Father’s Day when he has Alzheimer’s

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Family dynamics can be upended when a parent is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Sadness, confusion, and a sense of loss can make family gatherings challenging.

More than 11,000 men living with Alzheimer’s in Utah, many of them fathers, will be the focus of
attention on Sunday, June 20, as we celebrate Father’s Day. After a year of imposed isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Father’s Day 2021 will be a new experience.

The Alzheimer’s Association advises families to take into consideration the adjustments being made,
both by fathers as well as their families.

“It is not unusual for family members to feel a sense of loss because of the changes their loved one is
experiencing as a result of the disease,” said Ronnie Daniel, executive director of the Alzheimer’s
Association of Utah. “And those changes may feel magnified because families have been separated
because of COVID-19. While family gatherings were paused, Alzheimer’s keeps progressing.”

How families ultimately choose to celebrate the occasion will greatly depend on the stage of the disease experienced by their loved ones.

In the early stages: a person with Alzheimer’s may experience minor changes. Some may withdraw and be less comfortable socializing while others may relish seeing family and friends as before.

As the disease progresses into the middle or late stages, the person will require a greater level of care. He may have a more difficult time communicating, become more easily frustrated or angry, and act out in unexpected ways.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following tips for families to help make Father’s Day an enjoyable one.

  • Take a person-centered approach. Keep the focus on appreciating your dad and enjoy his company. 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 he gets overwhelmed in large groups, a small, quiet gathering may be preferable.
  • Keep it simple. Consider a celebration over a lunch or brunch at home 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. Perhaps take dad for a drive, play his favorite music, or write a story about him what he means to you.
  • 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, photo albums, checkers, or dominos. Suggest gifts in solid colors. A lightweight robe is a nice gift for dad at any stage but avoid confusing patterns.
  • Educate yourself/find support. Learn more about Alzheimer’s in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center here. 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 your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter services and programs.

Go to the Alzheimer’s Association website for more information or call the free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

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