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Make Mother’s Day meaningful for moms with dementia

Here's tips to make Mother's Day with a loved one who has dementia memorable.

Celebrating Mother’s Day is a time-honored tradition, but for families whose loved ones may be suffering from memory loss or dementia, the upcoming holiday can be a struggle.

“My mom was spiritual, but not Christian. She was well educated and fiercely independent, quirky, a voracious reader. My mom was a poet, she loved language, and she loved words,” said daughter Ann Vandervelde.

Her mother, Evalyn Vandervelde, and she were best friends and artists. One created with paint, the other with words. Even publishing a book of poetry and art together, but as Evalyn’s memory faded she repeated herself, forgot things, and then started to lose her words.

“Sometimes, she’d just shake her fist a little bit and purse her lips; she knew she was fighting for certain words. I tried really hard to be as patient as I could,” Ann said.

Karen Clay, a social worker at UW Medicine and the Memory & Brain Wellness Center at Harborview Medical Center, meets daily with families whose loved ones have dementia or memory loss.

“People with dementia will be having a range of emotions. Love is there, there’s also worry, there’s fear, there’s gratitude, there’s appreciation,” Clay said.

An estimated 5.5 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of dementia, and that number is expected to increase significantly in the coming decade.

Celebrating Mother’s Day is a meaningful tradition for families. If your mom has dementia, experts say to focus on having a positive experience.

Ask your mom what she might like to do. Find out if she wants a small gathering or something bigger. If she says something wrong, let it go. And if you see she’s getting confused, step in and help.

Better communication will reduce everyone’s stress and anxiety.

“They may not remember your name, but they will remember how you made them feel that day,” said Clay.

Before Evalyn died, Ann asked her mother which of her eight decades was the most amazing.

“She just smiled at me and said, ‘the last,’” Ann said.