Dementia Birthday Tip

Dementia Birthday Tip
Mother's 92nd Birthday

92 Years Young!

Mother's Birthday Balloon

Her Birthday Balloon and Sign

My mom is going to be 92 years young on Tuesday and she has had vascular dementia for around 11 years. She can’t remember what she had for breakfast, but she still knows my name. Last week when my husband and I went to see her at the Freedom Village Health Care Center she said, “What a surprise, I am happy to see you!” I was so astonished with her welcome. Usually it can take several minutes for her brain to adjust that we are there. We celebrated her birthday month that evening with a snack, gift and watching a movie together. She was 70% cognitively with us and shared some childhood memories.

This week, I was not so lucky. I arrived in the morning with a balloon and a gift from my brother. When I saw her, she was in an anxious mood. I braced myself for an unknown emotional roller coaster. The balloon scared her at first, which shocked me. Then she wanted to read it and soon she was laughing. She told me that it was not a good day, that she could not remember anything and it was all so confusing. I told her that I understood and that it would be okay. She calmed down and then asked what was in the package. I told her it was her birthday gift from my brother Paul. “Is it my birthday?” she asked. I laughed and showed her the sign that I had attached to the balloon. It said, Margie’s birthday is October 28th, she will be 92 years young.

I set the balloon next to her and everyone who walked by wished her a happy birthday. It was awesome. My first thought was that every care ambassador and nurse would read the sign and wish her a happy birthday 24-7 for a few days. My second thought was that my mom could read the sign and know that it was her birthday week. I helped her open the gift of a new sweater.   She loved the texture, because it was so soft. The card enamored her most and she kept looking at it and opening and closing it. With all the pictures on it, I realized that it was so busy that she could not focus on what my brother and sister-in-law had written inside. So I read it to her several times. She loved it.

When I saw her on my next visit, she was agitated with red spots on her checks. She was relieved to see my familiar face. After several minutes of my speaking soothing comments, she came back to me mentally. Then she asked if I had any food. I always bring food, because food can have a calming effect on her. I produced a banana from my purse and her eyes lit up. “For me?” she said. I laughed and said, “Yes!” I opened it and she said that she wanted to hold it. Sometimes she wants me to hold it and she breaks off part of the banana. I have learned to go with flow and to accept the not good days or moments that adjoin laughter and happier days.

Happy birthday month Mother!

Diane’s number one tip for those who have a loved one with dementia is to expect the unexpected. You may want to celebrate their birthday on the actual day, but that may not be a good day for your loved one with dementia. Be flexible and have a willingness to celebrate their special day on another day or just have a birthday month celebration for them and you are sure to hit one good day. Stay calm and be soothing to your loved one. Don’t ask someone with dementia a lot of questions, they can’t process them. Just let them talk to you about what is on their mind. They might want to talk about their childhood or the depression. Adapt to them and go with the flow.

Diane Masson’s new guide book for seniors, Selecting Senior Housing for Seniors in the Silver Tsunami,” will be will be coming soon to If you sign up for my weekly newsletter on the right side of this blog, you will be notified when my new book becomes available. Check out my new website: or please follow me on Facebook.


  1. I love the idea of a balloon with the information attached….helpful for visitors as well as staff to engage and a great way to help the person with the dementia to feel they are someone who matters as well as a great prompt for them!

  2. Lovely article. Caring for a parent/friend with dementia does not come naturally. Once a diagnosis is made, I wish more physicians would offer handouts with important points in it that folks could read. In this day, there just needs to be bullets for people are too busy to sit down and read a long book on the disease. That could come later but first, folks just need to be taught how to speak with the person and this would make everyone’s life much easier.

  3. What a great article God Bless you for making your mom’s birthday so special, that just confirms what I as a Activity Director have always thought, At Arden Courts we celebrate every single Birthday, not a birthday month, how is it special if it’
    not celebrated on their day, and your insight on dementia is right on!!!

    • Thank you Marcy! I am glad that you are making a difference in the lives of your residents.

  4. Thank you for sharing this story about your Mom with us. She sounds like a sweetie, and you are a wonderful daughter :-).

  5. Diane,
    Thanks for some practical and useful counsel provided in a soft and gentle way. Acceptance and flexibility will help us all.

  6. This is a nice story and you are right, we have to “expect the unexpected.” Ironically, I just wrote an article about how people respond differently to a balloon at the day care where I volunteer. I couldn’t figure out why your mom was afraid of the balloon until I saw the picture. That puts a little different twist on my thoughts about balloons : )

  7. This is a very nice story and you are right that we need to “expect the unexpected.” Ironically, I just wrote an article about how people respond differently to a balloon at the day care where I volunteer. So I couldn’t imagine why your mom was afraid of the balloon until I saw the picture. That puts a new twist on my thoughts about balloons : )

  8. What great insight you have, and obviously a patient and loving daughter. Go with their flow.

  9. Diane,

    Sweet as Halloween candy was your post about your mother’s end of October birthday. You are so sensitive and almost a clinical observer of the smallest detail showing your mother’s well being. You remind me of something a professor once said about psychotherapy. He said a psychotherapist first joins a patient in his crazy world and then carefully leads him out of it.

    Well, a visit from a loving daughter is better than psychotherapy any day, provided the daughter has learned the knack of first joining mom in her world. You have masters level skill at daughtering. You can always lead her a little bit out of the distortions that accompany dementia. Bravo!

    • A master’s level in daughtering? – you made my day! I remember being trained in dementia at an assisted living. We had goggles with Vaseline smeared on them, headphones with blaring music, thick rubber gloves on our hands and sock/slippers with pebbles in them. We were directed to get from one side of the community to the other. It was impossible. It was a great lesson that I never forgot.

  10. Your story mirrors mine in so many ways. I go through that same journey on a daily basis. I never know what to expect and when it looks like my Mother is distant and angry, I occupy myself with other things…i.e., arranging her clothing, reading my Kindle while sitting next to her, etc. Most of the time she comes around and begins to call me by name and talk with me about whatever is on her mind. I thank God for the bad days as well as the good. Lollipops are always a great ice breaker and treat!

    Thank you for sharing your story…….

    • Good tips Nina! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Wishing your mom a Happy Birthday. Sound advice to go with what the person wants and to redirect if getting frustrated. I’m sure your just being there with her is comforting. Music with favorite songs sometimes is soothing and brings back some memories easier than a conversation.

  12. Great reminder!!!! Flexibility is key in dealing with any dementia. Roll with the flow. Their
    comfort is key in every situation.

  13. A nice article, Diane. It’s nice how you openly share about the challenges this dreadful disease state impacts her, you and your family. My thoughts are with you. Happy 92nd Birthday to your mother. A great picture of her you posted, too!

    • Thank you so much Mitchell!

  14. Thank you for sharing that wonderful story and a very Happy Birthday to your Mom.

    I also was blessed to be with my Mother during her last years of life with dementia.
    Every morning she would look at me and say, “I don’t know who you are, but I know I love you!” My siblings thought that was so sad, but not me. I thought I was so lucky to have that love in my life, no matter what my precious Mother could remember each day. I chose to keep my parents in my home until they passed. I wanted them with me and I do not regret any moment. It inspired me to have a second career in helping others along their journey of life.

    • Wow! What a great story Kathleen. You accepted the love at the capabilities that your mom could share it. I love it.