Celebrating Valentine’s Day With a Loved One With Dementia

If you are a family member, friend or spouse of a loved one with dementia, you may be wondering what the best way is to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Though the day may come with its challenges, there are still ways that you can celebrate with the one you love.Celebrating Valentine's Day With a Loved One With Dementia

Read a caregiver’s Valentine’s Day story and see our tips on how to make the day special for your loved one with dementia.

A Caregiver’s Valentine’s Day

Carol Bradley Bursack, author, columnist, consultant and speaker, wrote in a recent Aging Care article, “Cards and flowers were a big deal to my parents, especially on their anniversary and Valentine’s Day. Sadly, after Dad’s brain surgery threw him into dementia, it was obvious that he would no longer be able to actively participate.”

Bursack adds, “I knew [that] if he could make that decision, Dad would want to give Mom a card and flowers. I knew Mom would want to do the same for him. The only problem was, neither of them can arrange for flowers to be delivered or choose a card… Dad couldn’t even understand what the celebration was about.

She continues, “How do we celebrate special occasions when one or more of the people involved can’t participate? Do we follow through or do we pretend the special day doesn’t exist?”

New Ways to Celebrate the Holiday

Although traditional holiday celebrations may need to be tweaked a bit for a loved one’s dementia, it’s very important to continue to commemorate holidays. Even if you don’t usually celebrate, it is the perfect time to start devoting at least one special day each year for family Valentine’s Day traditions.

There are Valentine’s cards written specifically for adult children and grandchildren to give to their elders and many resources online offering recipes for making a brain-healthy Valentine’s Day dinner, as well as other ideas on how to celebrate. Bursack explains that she tried to emulate the ways her parents traditionally celebrated Valentine’s Day.

“I did what I could. I’d buy them cards to give to each other and order flowers from an understanding florist… on the special day, I’d take Mom to Dad’s room and I’d squat down by Dad’s chair and try to wake him. Mom would give Dad his card and I’d show it to him and read it, making it a big production. Understanding that something was expected of him, he’d generally nod his head and try to smile.”

“I’d put the card for Mom into his hand and guide it to her. In this way, they’d exchange cards and sometimes gifts,” Bursack explains.

Although some people would, no doubt, question the motivation for continuing to have holiday celebrations with a person with dementia, Bursack says that in the end, celebrating brought some much-needed satisfaction when she faced all of the losses that encompassed having a parent with dementia.

“I will admit to agony in my heart as I went through the whole process. I felt powerless to help my parents with the losses they had suffered. Yet, strangely, there was gratification in the routine. I felt, momentarily at least, as though I was doing all I could for them,” she states.

“People with dementia are still alive. In my mind, it serves a purpose to honor their years of love and marriage on these special days, even if some of the processes seem fruitless at times. In the case of my parents, we knew what was in Dad’s heart. So, painful as the process of putting on a little celebration was, it would have been more painful to ignore the days. Family participation helped make the days special for my parents to whatever extent was possible,” says Bursack.

How do you plan on celebrating the holiday with a parent, spouse or senior loved one this year? We’d like to hear more about your Valentine’s Day plans in the comments below.

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