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Father's Day 2011: 5 Great Gifts for Dads with Memory Loss

Some people struggle with celebrating Father's Day once their dad begins suffering the effects of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of memory loss. However, the day can still be meaningful for both your dad and the whole family.
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Some people struggle with celebrating Father's Day once their dad begins suffering the effects of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of memory loss. You and your family may feel like the past traditions just aren't possible anymore. However, the day can still be meaningful for both your dad and the whole family.

As difficult as it may seem, instead of focusing on all that you and your father are losing, try to focus on his remaining strengths and interests, and all that you still have. Take comfort in knowing that by spending time with your father, you are giving him one of the most important gifts you can give: your continued presence in his life.

Here are five ways to give the gift of your time this Father's Day:

Reminisce with him. Create a photo album about his life, including all the times he's been there for you, such as family vacations, birthdays and sports or academic events. This is a great way to say "thank you" and will also help him to re-live pleasant memories from the past. If he is able to converse, ask him open-ended questions about the photos, such as, "What was your favorite thing about playing this sport?" or, "Tell me about your father." He may also enjoy reminiscing about parenthood. If you have children of your own, ask for his advice. Individuals with Alzheimer's disease may have lost many of their skills, abilities and memories, but they still have wisdom, and if we ask and listen, they will share it.

Play some active games together. Did your dad enjoy playing golf, catch, bocce ball, pool or throwing darts? Remember that much of his implicit or procedural memory, which some refer to as the "memory that remains in our fingertips," is still there. Also, keep in mind that every one of these activities can be adapted to almost any stage of memory loss. If your father lives in an assisted living memory care neighborhood, the life enrichment manager or activities director should focus on organizing activities geared toward men. He or she can also share tips with you on the best way to adapt the activity in a way that focuses on your father's strengths so that he has fun and feels successful.

Listen to his favorite music, or sing together. Music is one of the most therapeutic and engaging activities we can share with a person who has memory loss. Bring your dad a CD or record of one of his favorite bands or singers. Find a comfortable place where there are no interruptions, and listen to the music together. If the music moves you, get up and dance! Research has shown that the emotion and reward centers of the brain are activated when we listen to music. It is not uncommon to witness people with profound memory loss, and even some who can no longer speak, who have the ability to sing an entire song. Watch this touching video for an example:

Enjoy some of his favorite foods with him. Depending on the stage of your dad's memory loss, you can either invite him to dine at a restaurant where he can order a meal of his choice, or stay at home and prepare one of his favorite meals for him. If you decide to prepare the meal, try to keep it simple and don't forget to ask him to help you. This can also serve as a great opportunity to reminisce about meals you've shared in the past. If he lives in an assisted living memory care neighborhood, you can also plan to dine there with him or request that the chef incorporate his favorite meal into the menu.

Show him your affection and respect. The need to feel secure and loved is a universal basic human need. Despite his degree of memory loss, your father will still be able to feel your love and respect. One doesn't need a lot of words or actions to do this. Just sit close to him, at eye level or slightly below eye level, to look up to him and show him respect. Also, don't hesitate to use touch. By holding his hand, putting your arm around his shoulder or giving him a hug, you are showing him how much you love him and cherish your time together. It is often in the quiet moments with the fewest distractions that we are able to make the most heartfelt connections. Watch this compelling short film that serves as a reminder of the importance of patience and respect:

Try using some of these approaches this Father's Day to show your dad how thankful you are for having him in your life. Although he may not remember everything, he will still be able to recognize that he is fondly remembered by you.