What has become clear to me though through being with Mom is that while socialization helps people with dementia, too many people can be difficult for them to handle. When I am alone with Mom or there are just a few of us with her, she often keeps her eyes open and talks a bit. Whenever we are in a big group though, Mom has been what seems to be mostly non-responsive. She sits with her eyes closed and does not talk. It seems like she is "not there anymore" and it can be very sad to watch. However, if I pay close attention, I notice that she has really just shut everything down and she listens, but it is too much for her to repond and be engaged. I can understand that. It takes a lot to interact with a large group of people, especially when your brain gets easily overloaded by too much sensory stimulation. I know Mom is still here even when she looks like she is not because if it gets too loud, she will all of the sudden open her eyes and say very clearly "be quiet." Then at dinner, she may not open her eyes or talk, but if you tell her you have food for her and you are going to give her a piece of a cookie, she opens her mouth and eats.
|Katie & Mom at our cookie decorating party. Mom was not responsive because we had a lot of people at the house.|
For most of the people with dementia I have worked with, not just with Mom, I have found that sometimes life is just too much for them to handle in the moment and they retreat into themselves in order to get through the situation they are in. They are listening and they can feel the love and emotion that is in the room. They are still here, but they just can not be present with us in the way that we wish they could be.
Keeping big family gatherings is fine, but we might also want to make sure to take a few minutes in the next month for some one-on-one time with our loved one so we can create a space that is more quiet and enables them to be more responsive. We especially need to consider out-of-town family members and make some space for them, not during a large family event, to have alone time with their loved one with dementia.