Time and Attention: The Best Mother's Day Gifts

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • During the past three weeks, the newspaper and television advertisements have been suggesting the trendy trinket, perfume or scarf that will be the perfect present for Mother’s Day this year. But what do you get your mother when she has Alzheimer’s Disease? I have learned through trial and error that Mom’s unarticulated desires of what she really wants from loved ones on this holiday (and any other day, for that matter) are time and attention.

    Time is perhaps the easiest of these two presents to define, but in today’s busy world where we often focus primarily on our own schedules, time can be extremely hard to give. And sadly, there are many people who live in Mom’s secure unit who do not have regular visits from family and friends, even on holidays. I don’t know what the reasons are behind this isolating behavior – whether it’s a matter of distance or work schedule, the difficulty of having conversations with people who have dementia, or the mirror that is provided when you sit across from your parent who has Alzheimer’s (i.e. could that be me in 20, 30, 40 years?). Nevertheless, to see the pleasure in my mom’s eyes when she sees me for the first time indicates that this present of time is very valuable to her. Because of her memory loss, she may not — and probably does not — remember that a family member or friend has spent time with her the day before (or that those visits may be on a regular basis). But for that one moment, she’s happy that someone she recognizes care enough about her to spend time with her.
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    The second gift that my mother appreciates is attention. What I mean by “attention” is that I try to be fully present in my visits with her. I also try to spend a majority of our time together with her alone. I found out how important this one aspect is to Mom during one of my visits in November. At that time, Mom and I often spent our visits in the secure unit’s commons area where many of the residents would be sitting. I had established a relationship with several of the residents through saying hello, waving or smiling at them. Because they felt welcome and wanted some attention, the residents began to join Mom and me when I entered the room. The residents would want to talk with me; eventually, Mom started becoming jealous and telling them to leave us alone because she wanted to visit with her daughter. So I learned that time was not enough; my mom wanted my complete and devoted attention.

    In retrospect, these two gifts of time and attention probably are what my mom has always wanted, even prior to her diagnosis. What I’ve also learned is that every day should be Mother’s Day with a mother who has Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, and that the people who care about her can give her the presents that she truly desires through actual visits, phone calls and cards and letters. Those simple pleasures are what make her truly happy.

    What have you found to be the most valuable 'gifts' for loved ones with Alzheimer's or dementia? Tell us in the message boards.
Published On: May 10, 2006