One of my grandsons turned five years old recently. He loved making wishes then blowing out the candles. Each time he blew out the candles, he asked to have them re-lit. Then, he wanted us to sing happy birthday again, and again, and again. Finally, we were able to distract him with cake, ice cream, and presents. He liked the attention and wanted it repeated. How different it is for my mother.
We celebrate her birthday several times over several days. Not because she likes it, but because different guests are present, and they want to share the experience. We find it better to have several smaller parties than to have a sizeable disruptive crowd. Mom doesn’t remember any of the parties, so it makes no difference to her.
Though we want our loved ones with us on birthdays, holidays and special occasion; it often doesn’t work well. Assisted Living staff tell us the holidays are difficult. A patient who has their routine upset by traveling for the holidays returns even more confused. One assisted living worker said the days following Christmas were like a “zoo” at the memory unit. She claimed many families haven’t make the same mistake twice. The next year they have a short visit to the facility and leave the patient out of the main festivities.
It’s not cruel to exclude them from family activities. It is better for them and will aid in their happiness. It is probably better to have a few family members visit them where they live than to take them to a place with many people. The noises and commotion of a noisy family gathering may over-stimulate them, which may cause unwanted behavior.
One caregiver said her husband messed his pants at a family gathering. It was not his typical behavior, but he became overwhelmed and didn’t recognize the signs his body gave him until it was too late. Then he rushed from the table, but he didn’t make it to the bathroom in time.
After he took a shower and put on clean clothes, he said he was ready to go home. When his wife informed him, they were spending the night, he became angry and yelled at her for the first time in their long marriage. Though she had told him they were spending a few days with his daughter, he didn’t remember. He claimed she hadn’t told him, then called her a liar. She said she would never travel overnight with him again.
Interrupting a dementia patient’s routine can confuse them which may results in verbal or physical acting out. Repetition is the best policy for dementia patients.
My wife is an elementary teacher. She claims third-graders are comfortable with the routine. If she varies slightly from the class schedule, some child will usually speak up. Then she must waste a few moments to explain why she strayed; therefore, it’s more efficient for her, and comfortable for the students, to maintain consistency.
The comfort with routine gradually diminishes as the children age and pass from elementary school, but older people reestablish the pattern. For instance, in their later years, my parents structured their week. Monday was grocery day, Tuesday was laundry, Wednesday they vacuum and dusted, and so on. Spend some time with older people to see it’s quite common. Some say it’s a “rut” from a boring life, but I don’t think so.
I don’t think they develop this pattern from repetition, but instead, they do it for comfort. In other words, they don’t go to the grocery store every Monday because they always have gone to the store on Monday. Instead, they develop a calendar for comfort. It comforts them to have a structure like a third grader wanting the spelling lesson to always follow the math. Dementia patients carry the desire for a routine to a higher level. Their life and your life as a caregiver will be more comfortable if you avoid family gatherings. Though others may innocently invite the dementia sufferer to their party, you must inform them why they shouldn’t attend.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also. Psalms 31:9 NASB