Dementia and public gatherings

The decision to bring a loved one with dementia should not be rushed. 

As the holidays approach, we have the tendency to want to include all of our family for gatherings. Not wanting to exclude anyone, you may also want to include a loved one with dementia who is currently housed in a care facility—either for their dementia or possibly a hospice care facility. However, this can raise many questions—both logistical and emotional. 

  • Will they be comfortable in such a setting? 
  • Will the rest of the family members be comfortable with their presence? 
  • Will this mean that I completely miss out on the gathering to meet their needs? 
  • What happens when it’s time to return them to the facility and they refuse?
  • Will they even remember the family gathering?

While these are good items to consider, it is also important to look for indications that this loved one may not be up for such a gathering. 

Red Flags for Attendance

Red Flag 1: If your loved one has a previous habit of voicing their displeasure with their facility. 

If your loved one with dementia has a habit of speaking extensively about how much they dislike their facility, these are not to be considered one-off comments. They are expressing a feeling they have that they may wish to express at a family gathering in the form of active resistance.

Red Flag 2: You already have trouble returning your loved one with dementia to their facility after visiting your home or other locations.

If your loved one has shown extreme hesitancy, frustration, or even resistance to returning to their care center after visiting your house or another location, that means that these feelings or behaviors may be intensified upon leaving a family gathering—even while still at the said family gathering. 

Red Flag 3: They have stated that they simply do not want to attend this family gathering or do not understand the concept. 

While you may feel that seeing some family members and getting out of the care facility may be in their best interest, fight the “you’ll thank me later” urge—thinking that they’ll come to enjoy the experience. They may, but they’ve also expressed that they do not wish to go and you should respect that wish by not pressuring them to attend. 

Logistics to Consider

If your loved one with dementia has not voiced displeasure with their care facility or resistance to returning to it, you may feel that it would be appropriate to take them to a family gathering for the holidays. While this is a valid decision that may end up being wonderful, it is important to plan ahead in case their mood sours—especially when it is time for them to return to the care facility. 

How will you make leaving enticing? 

Let’s say that your father has dementia, has expressed no ill feelings toward his care facility, and you wish to take him along to a family gathering. That’s wonderful! However, when it comes time to return and you say, “Ok, dad—it’s time to go back home,” he refuses. What should you do now? 

This is when it is important to make the prospect of leaving the family gathering enticing with something he likes. 

Perhaps instead of saying it is time to go home: 

  • Have a family member say they want to show your father their new car
  • Tell him that you wanted to take him to pick up some ice cream
  • Tell him that you want to show him the pretty changing leaves
  • Tell him that you’re all loading up in the car to see the neighborhood holiday lights

The important thing is to find something that will appeal to your loved one—something enticing enough to get him to willingly leave the situation. While it is important to not lie to him, simply create the journey home into a series of agreeable steps until he has reached his destination instead of one abrupt trip back to a place he may not want to go. 

Realizing the Why of Their AttendanceThough it may almost seem harsh to consider out of context, but before you decide that your loved one should attend this holiday family gathering, you will need a firm and simple reasoning why. This reason or lack of reason is not meant to more easily disqualify their attendance, but rather to ensure that this reason is being fulfilled. 

Not often enough good reasons: 

  • “Well, it’s the holidays.”
  • “Well, they’re family members.” 
  • “I’d feel terrible if I didn’t bring them.”

All of these reasons are forgetting the most important contributing factor to this decision: your loved one. Instead of considering the benefits to them, such reasons are usually your reason why they should attend. In many instances, such events outside of the typical routine of someone with dementia can leave them confused and frustrated—not just immediately following the event, but also days or even weeks later.

However, if you feel that this experience may actually benefit their overall state, a family event may very well be a great idea. 

But how can you know? 

How to Consider if a Family Gathering is Good For Them 

When trying to determine if a holiday family gathering will be a good experience for them, it is important to consider the past, present, and future of their state. 

  • How have they responded to going out and needing to return to their care center in the past?
  • Will you be able to provide adequate care for them for the entire duration of the experience?
  • Will this family gathering be positive for them or will it likely only cause confusion? 
  • How likely are they to be receptive to returning? 
  • How do you plan to entice them back to the care facility if they become confused, hesitant, or resistant? 
  • How is this family gathering as well as their return to care expected to leave them feeling in the days following it? Happy? Confused? Agitated?
  • Why do you think they should attend—for you, your family, or for their own wellbeing? 

There are several different aspects to consider when making the decision to bring a family member with dementia to a family gathering this season. Hopefully, this piece gives you a few more items and scenarios to consider for the health and happiness of your loved one. 


Hospice & Palliative Care Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma

If you or a loved one is looking for professional and compassionate hospice and palliative care in the Greater Tulsa, Oklahoma area, look no further than your friends at Cura HPC Hospice & Palliative Care.