Father’s Day is a time to honor our dads and recognize all that they have done for us. Beyond finding a great Father's Day gift, the greater goal of the day should be to give our fathers love and admiration.
A potential problem may exist when your father has dementia. My father had Alzheimer’s disease and I questioned if I could still celebrate this special day. What could I do with or for Dad? Was there any point in celebrating? My questions seemed valid. Dad’s belongings were being downsized (so he didn’t need any more “stuff”). Dementia had robbed him of almost all his memories, so would Dad even recognize the day was in honor of him?
Yes, you can – and should - still celebrate Father’s Day with Dad! It doesn’t matter whether he has dementia and is still living at home or if he has moved to a long-term care facility. Being with your father can bring great connection and joy to both of you.
14 Ways to Celebrate Father's Day when Dad has Dementia
It’s important to realize that how you choose to celebrate will depend on your father’s stage of dementia. Each stage results in very different levels of understanding and ability. Early dementia may not be immediately obvious, as a person can remain quite independent and aware. In the middle stages of dementia, a person can show more outward signs of mental and physical decline. During this stage, my dad and repeated questions and stories, experienced difficulty finding the right words to say, and struggled to dress and undress. In the late stages of dementia, a person will decline even further. My dad could not remember my name or specific connection to him, became weaker and wobbled more when standing.
Here are some recommendations for how you can continue to honor Dad on Father’s Day and make the day special for both of you. You can modify each of these depending on the stage of dementia your father is in and what his abilities and interests are.
- Go for a ride. Explore your own city and surrounding towns. Visit sites of interest and local attractions like museums and monuments. Research these sites in advance so you can explain their significance to your father. If he requires a wheelchair, ensure that your tour stops are easily accessible. Touring can involve driving biking or walking depending on your father’s mobility and stamina, so plan accordingly.
- Treat Dad to ice cream. Summer is a great time to find a roadside ice cream stand! During your city tour, plan a stop for a cold cone. Ice cream can melt and drip inside the car so sit with Dad on an outside park bench or at a table to eat.
- Make a photo album. Collect family photographs and make a photo album together. Select pictures of family members, the first family home, or previous family vacations. Describing these photos can make for wonderful conversation starters and memory triggers. Pointing to photos and saying something like, “Here’s the family on our trip to Disneyland …” will be less frustrating than asking, “Remember this family trip to Disneyland?”
- Play his favorite music. Does your father like Beethoven or The Beatles? Create a playlist for the day with his favorites. Music is a powerful tool in dementia care and can reach dementia patients who have forgotten much. Sit with your father, listen to this music, and hum, sing or dance along together.
- Go to a concert. Purchase tickets to a local concert featuring music from your father’s era. I tried this with my Dad, and while the event was a Christmas concert, Dad’s broad smile of approval was a joy to see.
- Attend a sporting event. Play ball! Is there a football or baseball game scheduled for Father’s Day? Join the crowd of fans in the stands and cheer on your favorite team. Be mindful here because sudden, loud noises like cheers, applause, and noisemakers could alarm your father. If there is no live game to go to nearby, watch a televised game together instead.
- Bring the family to him. How you meet and visit can be up to you. Gather together at dad’s home or a neighborhood park for a barbeque.
- Write a story about your father and what he means to you. Why is dad important to you? What is his significance in your life? By answering these questions, you will have a basis to write a story about your father. Once you finish, read your story out loud to your dad. If you want, you could also leave a copy of your story in his room.
- Provide dad with your undivided attention. Leave your cell phone in your purse or car when you visit with your dad. Avoid scheduling any other commitments before or after your time with your father so that you are not rushing your visit.
- Celebrate with grandchildren. Any homemade arts and crafts projects that your little ones give you to celebrate special occasions are an even bigger hit with grandparents. Some fun arts and crafts that all generations could make together include hand-made picture frames and trophies, or items like candle holders or decorated aprons. Make sure small children understand your father’s condition to avoid confusion on both sides.
- Play golf. If Dad’s up for it, challenge him to a game of golf. If attempting 18 holes seems overzealous, play just the front nine holes. Try to go earlier in the day to avoid the heat of the late afternoon. Alternatively, you can take him and the grandkids out for a multi-generational game of mini-golf instead.
- Help out around the house. If your dad has limited mobility, ask if he needs help with any chores around the house. Offer to clean out the garage, trim the hedges, do some weeding, or even wash his car. Your dad will appreciate the help and the company!
- Have a barbeque. Let Dad relax with his favorite beverage while you fire up the grill. Barbeque his favorite foods while the grandkids play in the yard.
12 Great Father’s Day Gifts for a Parent with Dementia
Along with celebrating Dad with a Father’s Day activity, you may also want to give him a present. What would your dad want or need? Choosing a great gift for seniors isn’t as difficult as you might think. Once again, consider the stage of Dad’s dementia and what he can still do.
Here are some great gift ideas depending on what stage your father is in:
Gifts for Dad During Early-Stage Dementia:
- A crossword puzzle book. This will work Dad's brain and can help promote cognitive health.
- A DVD of one of Dad’s most-loved movies. Then spend the evening watching it together.
- A wall calendar. Make sure it has easy-to-read dates and larger squares. Mark appointments, family gatherings, and holidays.
- A model or toy car. Finding the make and model of dad’s first car would be ideal but may be impossible. Instead, select a car model that dad has always admired. With a model car, ensure that the separate pieces aren’t too small and too hard to snap or glue together.
Gifts for Dad During Mid-Stage Dementia:
- A clock. Get one with a bold digital display that shows both the current time and date.
- A simple jigsaw puzzle. Look for one with fewer and larger pieces to put together.
- A simple board game. Try checkers or Dominoes.
- A whiteboard. Post this on the wall and mark down important reminders. If there are no pressing appointments to note, why not write messages of love from the family? Attach a washable marker to the whiteboard so it won’t go missing.
Gifts for Dad During Late-Stage Dementia:
- Comfortable clothes. My Dad’s long-term care staff explained that dressing Dad was far easier with looser clothes. Buy a sweat suit or pair of shorts one size larger than dad’s waist size. Button-up shirts are much easier to wear than pullovers. Short-sleeved shirts are cooler in the summer months while long-sleeved shirts will offer better protection from the sun. Remember that solid colors are better than patterns because the latter can confuse someone with dementia.
- A wide-brimmed hat. Warm summer temperatures beckon you and Dad outside! While soaking up the sun can bring so much joy, there can be the danger of sunburn or sunstroke. A wide-brimmed hat (e.g. a Tilley hat) can protect Dad from getting too much sun and can wave away any annoying bugs.
- A stuffed animal/robotic pet. A real pet will be out of the question for your father, but a stuffed animal can make for an excellent option. A stuffed animal can sit on dad’s lap without fussing and doesn't require walking or feeding. First, determine if your dad would enjoy a stuffed animal. These can be great for people of all ages, depending on their interests. Scientific research has actually shown that petting a stuffed animal can be very calming for people with dementia. If a stuffed animal doesn't seem like the right fit, you can try a robotic pet, which looks and acts like an actual cat or dog.
- A bathrobe. Keep Dad cool and comfortable by selecting a bathrobe of a lighter material. Look for a color of Dad’s liking and, as with other items of clothing, steer clear of confusing patterns.
Looking for something that’s great at any stage of dementia? Try satisfying his sweet tooth or bringing Dad's favorite food! My dad was always a big fan of chocolate and would appreciate it at any time. If your dad shouldn’t consume chocolate, try bringing him his favorite meal and eating it together. For more gift ideas, take a look at our article on the best gifts for seniors with Alzheimer's.
Your father may not understand the special significance of Father’s Day. He may not remember how you celebrated with him or forget your visit as soon as you leave. He can, however, appreciate being with you in the moment. Isn’t a limited time of enjoyment better than no enjoyment at all? Celebrate on Father’s Day and every other day of the year as well!
Do you have any other ideas on how to celebrate Father’s Day with a parent who has dementia? We’d love to hear from you! Please add your comments below.