Mother’s Day is a time when we can say thank you to our mothers for all their care and support in our lives.
Our thanks can be given in the form of words or gifts but what is important to most mothers, is the recognition of their role in their family’s life. Just because a person has been diagnosed as having dementia it does not mean that this changes.
As Admiral Nurses, we are often asked questions by families on the correct approach to Mother’s Day and I thought I would share my responses, in case these are issues for you and your family.
“Mum doesn’t recognize me – is there any point in visiting?”
The lack of recognition by your mum does not mean that she has forgotten you entirely. When your mum doesn’t recognize you it can be upsetting for her too and if she feels upset by this she may say things like, “Go away” or “I don’t know you”. If she tells you to go away, it could help to leave the area for 5-10 minutes and then return as if nothing has happened.
When a person has dementia it can damage areas of the brain that deal with naming, word finding, facial recognition and memory. This can affect how the person understands the world and as a consequence, their behaviour. This could lead to a situation where they do not recognise the family member as they are now, as they expect to see them as a child or many years younger.
What can I do?
Remember your mum is not doing this intentionally it could be due to the condition.
Visit as frequently as you can so she sees you more often and this may prompt memories and recognition.
Start a life-story book or photo album for your mum that you can go through together to spark memories from her life and your childhood.
Talk about shared memories from your childhood.
Remember even if your mum doesn’t respond verbally or show much interest in your visit we don’t know how much a person can comprehend.
Your mum could benefit from touch, try gently massaging some hand cream onto her hands.
Listen to music together from your childhood or recite nursery rhymes together if she can still express herself verbally.
A smile and cheerful response can encourage communication.
“What should I take mum when I visit her?”
Just because a person has dementia it doesn’t mean that their tastes and likes will have changed markedly! If your mum liked scented products and perfumes try to find the one she liked before. Hand creams, bubble bath and perfumes are always welcome gifts! Your mum could benefit from touch, try gently massaging some hand cream onto her hands.
If mum has a sweet tooth, chocolates are always a success, if swallowing is a problem then select softer chocolates and avoid toffees. Flowers that are bright in colour and scented can add to the enjoyment of receiving them.
Start a life-story book or photo album for your mum that you can go through together to spark memories from her life and your childhood and talk about shared memories from your childhood.
Give a gift that is music focused and listen to it together, pausing after each track to talk about it and what memories it has for you both. Music can often “unlock memories” that were apparently forgotten.
“I get upset as I remember mum as she was.”
Feeling upset by what is happening to your mum is natural given the situation you find yourselves in. Do you have other family and friends you can talk these feeling through with? Acknowledging and expressing these feelings can help you to work through them. Our national helpline (Admiral Nursing Direct: 0800 888 6678) can be of support to you if you need to talk to and it is staffed by Admiral Nurses (specialist dementia nurses).
Whilst your mum has changed from how she was there are still things you can do together e.g. listen to music, go for walks or shopping, start a life-story book or album, chat and share memories, garden, have pamper sessions, have a laugh at something you both find funny. Try to focus on the time you have now and what mum can still do rather than what she can no longer manage.
“How do I cope with the guilt of not seeing mum enough?”
Firstly you need to ask yourself are you really not seeing your mum enough or is this something you think you should be doing more? Next you should find out from your mum whether she thinks you don’t visit enough. It could be that the reality is that you do visit enough and the guilt you feel is groundless.
Most people have very busy lifestyles with many pressures for their time and attention. It is natural to concentrate on things that must be done, and at times that results in other areas of our lives taking second place. However, sometimes we use an avoidance tactic when we face a difficult situation or something distresses us. Do you find you are avoiding visiting your mum? The first step in handling this is to recognize when avoidance occurs and why, once we have done this, you can then decide how you are going to address the issue(s) that may be causing the difficulty.
Acknowledging and expressing these feelings can help you to work through them. If anything contained in this article has affected you, our national Helpline Admiral Nursing Direct can be of support to you if you need to talk to and it is staffed by Admiral Nurses, specialist dementia nurses.
If you’re dealing with feelings of grief and loneliness this Mother’s Day, you do not have to be alone, contact the Samaritans helpline if you need to talk.