Grandmas, weddings, and dementia

I feel like this needs some attention because I get a lot of questions about it.

Dementia and weddings.

Grandma has dementia. Should I take her to her grandson’s wedding?

Obviously, lot of people with dementia go to weddings and it’s a non-issue. People living with dementia even get married. However, as dementia progresses things become more complex.

It’s a fair question for someone who is moving toward the final stages.

Will grandma understand who is getting married? Will she be able to sit through the whole ceremony? Will the reception be overwhelming to her? Will she struggle to remember all the people at the wedding? What will we tell people if she says something that doesn’t make sense?

I don’t know if you should take your grandma to the wedding, but I can present some food for thought in the form of a question….

…Will grandma enjoy the wedding?

If she won’t enjoy the wedding, think twice about taking her.

Our first priority is to make sure that people with dementia are safe, happy, and have minimal pain–and this includes emotional and physical pain.

Will she be safe at the wedding? Will she be happy? And will she be free from pain?

We often think of this wedding question as an all or nothing, but it’s not. Can grandma go to the ceremony but not the reception, or vice-versa? Can she watch on Zoom at home with a friend? Can someone be prepared to take her home when she becomes overwhelmed? Can she sit in a quiet room at the reception facility where people can stop by and say hi in small groups?

Let’s face it.

Weddings are a lot for all of us. And they are certainly a lot for people with dementia. The marathon of the wedding is emotionally exhausting. People with dementia have limited mental energy.

When that mental energy is depleted, they may become agitated, more confused, or withdrawn. You know, that’s the same thing that happens to me when my mental energy is sapped. It’s just that my energy usually lasts a bit longer than that of someone with dementia.

You are not a bad person if you don’t bring your grandma to a wedding. Make her part of it in whatever way is possible, but don’t put her in a situation where she is not set up for success.

A while back, a friend told me that her grandma who has Alzheimer’s recently attended a family wedding. My friend told me it didn’t go well. I asked why.

Grandma hadn’t understood she was supposed to throw the rice as the bride and groom passed. As soon as the container was handed to her, she opened it and showered herself in it while gleefully wishing herself a happy birthday. (No, it wasn’t her birthday.)

At the reception, she had a long conversation with the bride and told her she was the most beautiful bride she had ever seen. She gave her some advice about marriage–mostly about sex–which the bride took very well after a couple of glasses of wine.

Grandma kept saying how excited she was that she had been able to see her sister at the church. In fact, her sister had passed away years earlier. They weren’t quite sure who she misidentified as her sister, but Grandma just kept saying how young and healthy she looked.

On the way home, Grandma sat in the backseat and said, “What a beautiful birthday party!”

The next morning, Grandma’s caregiver asked how the wedding was….and she said she hadn’t been to a wedding in years.

I asked again, “Why didn’t this go well?”

My friend told me how disappointing it was that Grandma didn’t remember the wedding.

I didn’t see it that way. Grandma enjoyed herself. And that’s what weddings are about, right? (And birthdays, for that matter.)

And you aren’t disappointed that your kid doesn’t remember their first birthday party. You are just glad they seemed happy at the time.

It’s not about the memory. It’s about the moment.

Louder, for the people in the back….

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MEMORY. IT’S ABOUT THE MOMENT.

If your loved one is in a place to go to a wedding and enjoy the moment, they should go. But have a back up plan. If they are overwhelmed, stressed, or anxiously confused, get them out of there, even if it’s just suggesting a stroll outside to regroup.

And change your expectations. Perhaps Grandma can’t play the role in your wedding that she would have played years ago. Dementia forces us to adjust. Be creative.

As always, meet people where they are.

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