How can we celebrate Father's Day with my dad who has dementia?

Dad has dementia…what can we do to celebrate with him?

Reminiscing can be a therapeutic way for someone with progressive memory loss or dementia to reconnect with others, enjoy memories, and to share parts of their past that help others to recognize that person as unique and vibrant. Although short-term memory tends to fail first in progressive dementia, remote or long-term memories often stay intact much longer.

Sharing memories with a father who has dementia may be enjoyed by using props and questions to help jog dad’s memory. Here are some helpful communication hints to create an atmosphere in which the person with dementia and others can enjoy those memories before the memories disappear.

Many people are visually oriented, and props can help to spark a conversation about dad and Father’s Day. Men in a group may have had children of their own, so the conversation may shift back and forth from having a father to being one. A variety of pictures of fathers and their children may be helpful, particularly if they are of the people in the group.

A few examples of props to encourage conversation with your father might include:

  • Father’s Day cards
  • briefcase and dress shoes
  • overalls and hoe
  • a variety of men’s hats
  • toolbox, saw horses, or other repair- or construction-related supplies
  • license tag or pictures of cars, trucks, or motorcycles, particularly ones relevant to the era
  • sporting equipment, such as baseball and bat, football, golf club, etc.
  • fishing equipment, such as a rod, lures, etc.
  • hunting supplies, such as a bird call, small stuffed animal, etc.
  • military supplies, such as dog tags, uniform, flag, etc.
  • small grill or grilling supplies
  • radio, TV remote, or other leisure-related props

Questions to Help People Remember Father’s Day

Asking open-ended questions related to fathers may help people direct conversations in a manner that is comfortable for them, although questions with a yes/no answer might be more appropriate for certain people in the group. Below are some examples of questions related to fathers and Father's Day:

  • Did you have any special names for your father?
  • What names did others call your father?
  • How did your family celebrate Father’s Day?
  • What was your father’s occupation?
  • What were some of your dad’s favorite or least favorite foods?
  • What type of vehicle did your father drive?
  • What type of music did your father enjoy?
  • What hobbies did your dad enjoy?

Questions such as these may produce a wide array of answers. Some fathers may have enjoyed caviar and golf while others may have been farmers who loved pinto beans and cornbread. Some dads may have been able to fix anything in the home or trouble-shoot the lawn mower and car. Camping and outdoor activities may have been favorites of some dads while others may have enjoyed reading or cooking. Some fathers may have enjoyed waltzing with a sweetheart while others may have played or sung in a bluegrass band. To hear these unique stories is to be a part of something quite special as people give insight into their own personal past.

Published on June 4, 2012.