7 Tips on Honoring Mom When She is Living with Alzheimer’s
You can adjust your Mother’s Day traditions and find ways to celebrate.
Cathy Maupin of Reno, Nevada, cares for her mother, Drusilla (known by her family as Dru). Dru has been living with Alzheimer’s disease for 21 years. Cathy has learned a lot about adapting holiday traditions as the disease has progressed.
Before Dru developed Alzheimer’s disease, the family typically celebrated Mother’s Day at her house. Cathy, her brother, Harold, and their families would go over to their mom’s for a BBQ. Dru loved having her family over.
Early stage celebrations
After her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, they moved the Mother’s Day celebrations to Cathy’s house. This allowed Dru to enjoy the day, without the stress of hosting.
Cathy’s family often gathered at her house for other holidays, so it was not too big of an adjustment. The venue change worked well for Dru and the rest of the family.
Fortunately, the community had Mother’s Day festivities onsite. Family participated in those celebrations with Dru.
Smaller groups of family members would visit throughout the day, instead of everyone going over at once. That way they could all enjoy visits with Dru but it didn’t overwhelm her.
Late stage celebrations
Now in the late stage of Alzheimer’s, Dru is living in a skilled nursing facility. Cathy will visit her mom on Sunday, which is also Dru’s 95th birthday.
While Cathy will bring a card and flowers, she’s not sure that Dru will notice them. “The card and flowers may be more for me,” Cathy acknowledges. “My great hope is that she’ll be awake when I visit.”
If the weather’s nice, they will go outside. Otherwise, Cathy will feed Dru lunch and celebrate with her and Dru’s tablemates.
Caregiver tips for your Mother’s Day celebration
Cathy and other caregivers have shared the following tips for celebrating Mother’s Day when your mom is living with Alzheimer’s disease:
- Do what mom likes now. Look at family pictures or enjoy mom’s favorite food. If she gets overwhelmed in large groups, a small quiet gathering may be better.
- Keep it simple. Consider a celebration over lunch or brunch at home or where mom is most comfortable. Have a small potluck or get the meal delivered by a local restaurant or grocery store.
- Join in. If Mom lives in a care facility, consider joining in any facility-planned activities.
- Appreciate what you still have. While it can be sad to see how your mom has changed, try to find a little joy in your time with her. Even if you celebrate in a very different way from the past, you can still honor the love you feel for your mom.
- Don’t overdo it. Stick to mom’s normal routine as much as possible. This can help keep the day from becoming
disruptive or confusing. Depending on your mom’s stamina, plan time for breaks. Give her space to rest in a quiet area.
- Adapt gift giving. Encourage safe and useful gifts for mom. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, some gifts may be unusable or even dangerous. Gift ideas include: an identification bracelet, comfortable clothing, favorite foods and photo albums.
- Educate yourself/find support. Learn more about Alzheimer’s in the Caregiver Center or call 800.272.3900. There you can find:
- Tips on supporting a family member with Alzheimer’s.
- How to join the ALZConnected online community.
- Information about local Alzheimer’s Association services and programs.
Understand the emotional progression
Caregivers may feel more stressed or sad during the holidays. You may mourn the traditions you can’t continue or how the disease is impacting your loved one. Cathy noted that Dru, who eats only pureed food, won’t get her favorite chocolate candy this year.
Cathy acknowledges that she feels sadder as the disease has progressed. “I long for the mother I used to have. I miss her giggle, being able to talk with her.”
Coping with sadness – getting support, finding joy and becoming involved
As a naturally happy person, Cathy looks for the good in things. She still finds joy in being able to spend time with Dru. Other residents who dine with her mom enjoy Cathy’s visits as well, hugging Cathy when she joins them.
Cathy participates in Alzheimer’s Association support groups and volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association. While Alzheimer’s has brought sadness, she shares that it has also given her unexpected positive experiences. Cathy has found joy in activities that honor her mother.
We’d like to close the blog with a piece Cathy wrote about her caregiving journey.
“This year marks a milestone, the twenty first anniversary of becoming a caregiver to my mother. This journey has been a long one–confusing, heartbreaking, exhausting. I have known tears, heartache, and loss. But as the anniversary approaches and I look back at these past twenty-one years, I am filled with feelings of gratitude and happiness, of amazement and joy for the opportunities and experiences that have enriched my life. I know with absolute certainty that Alzheimer’s has been a blessing for me.
“I found the Alzheimer’s Association twelve years ago. I began attending a Support Group and am honored to have become a volunteer, an advocate, and an Ambassador. I have had experiences and opportunities one can only dream about. I have shared stories and tears with Nevada State Legislators, held hands with Senator Harry Reid while discussing Nevadans who have this disease, and sat with Congressman Mark Amodei as he entertained with his wit and humor and spoke of his support for legislation and increased research funding. I have stood before the Advocacy Forum audience in Washington D.C. and delivered the State of Nevada report.
“I have witnessed Alzheimer’s Disease come out of the shadows and become a national priority. I have seen research funding increase greatly these last five years. Most importantly, I have met caregivers–beautiful dedicated angels–from all over the United States. I have been entrusted with their stories in support groups, in grocery stores, in museums and on the streets. My heart has been touched and inspired by their selflessness, courage and dedication to their loved ones.
“I have met countless Advocates and volunteers who so willingly have given their time to increase awareness and raise money to fund programs. I have been surrounded by love, compassion, support and commitment from the employees of the Alzheimer’s Association as I have cared for my mother. While I would not wish this disease on anyone, my journey has been an exceptional adventure, one filled with love and caring, new friends and inspiring individuals, unexpected experiences and beautiful memories. I am so blessed.”