Celebrating Mother's Day with a mom in long-term care

Posted May 4

Mother’s Day often inspires images of breakfast in bed, a relaxing brunch, or even a phone call to connect with mom. However, for many, the realities of a parent in an assisted living facility or suffering with a cognitive disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia bring sadness. With dementia and Alzheimer’s, the dynamics of a relationship change, and so do Mother’s Day celebrations. For children with parents who fit this description, dreading Mother’s Day is normal.

However, with some preparation, you can help ease the pain of Mother’s Day and make the day a little more sweet for you and your mom. Here are 5 ideas to help you do that:

1. Go slow

Depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s or dementia your mother is experiencing, you’ll need to go at that pace. In the early stages, brunch or breakfast will be a good time to connect. It doesn’t have to be about reliving memories, but just connecting in the present. If your mom is in the later stages, that may be too much, but just visiting with no expectations about what she may or may not remember is important.

2. Get assistance from the staff

If your mother is in an assisted living facility, be sure to reach out to the staff beforehand to get ideas for things to do. Many facilities are willing to help plan an activity and prepare your mom for your visit. The staff will also be aware of recent concerns and can help set expectations.

At Parke View Rehabilitation in Burley, Idaho, the staff has a celebration event with dessert and a time to discuss and remember mom. “The past two years, this event has provided a time for all of us to cook together and discuss what our moms did for us,” Shiloh Sorensen, activities director at Parke View Rehabilitation said. “When the activity is done, we set out puzzles, art projects, music, and games so families can interact while they are visiting.”

3. Keep it short

There is no need to have a visit last all day if that isn’t practical. Coming by for a scheduled visit for an hour will make the visit less stressful and more meaningful. You can either come prepared with an activity or have a moment to sit in the common area or outside if the weather is nice.

4. Connect through a hobby or music

Studies have shown that patients with cognitive disabilities are soothed through music and familiarity.

“Visit mom and do something that she always loved doing. Don’t expect her to remember how, but enjoy the activity with her,” Tracy Jenkins, executive director at Hurricane Health and Rehabilitation suggests. “If she always loved to sew or knit, sit down with her at a table and knit a small item where she can watch. Remember that some of the most heartfelt moments with someone who has memory loss involve very few words.”

Bring old photo albums and let your mom tell stories if she remembers any. If not, you can either fill in the blanks or create your own stories. You can also bring a CD or iPod with songs from her childhood. If your mom liked to paint, write letters, or participate in any other hobbies, see if the staff can accommodate a short session. Other ideas include doing your mom’s nails, arranging for a haircut or hand massage, or bringing by a bouquet of her favorite flowers.

5. Be flexible

In many cases, your mom won’t understand the importance of Mother’s Day, and setting expectations for a perfect day will lead to disappointment. If things don’t go well, it’s okay to cut the visit short or ask for help.

“Try to enjoy an activity with your mother by trying not to correct her, but go along in the world she is experiencing at the moment,” said Sorensen. “This can make her feel more at ease and not confused.”

Your relationship with your mother has most likely changed, and it’s okay to feel sad or even angry about the expectations Mother’s Day brings. “Remember that your mother is still in there,” Jenkins said. “She still has all the talents, abilities, personality, love and devotion that she ever had. She just can’t access them all right now. She may not remember your name or even who you are, but her soul remembers and loves you.”

In all the expectation and commotion of Mother’s Day, do not forget to be gentle with yourself and take care of any needs you have as well. Whether or not you have anything special planned, or just let a simple phone call suffice, your love for her is not diminished.

Emily Ellsworth is a blogger at Emily's Reading Room, where she has been writing about all things reading since 2009. For book reviews, author interviews, and more about the latest in young adult fiction, visit her blog at


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all