Spending a birthday in a care home for the first time

People with experience share their tips on celebrating birthdays in care homes.

We asked members of Talking Point about advice for someone worried about a person with dementia who’s about to spend their birthday in a care home for the first time.

Talking Point is a helpful community that’s free and open 24/7, where anyone who’s affected by dementia can get valuable support online.

Jessbow says,

‘In my experience, birthdays in care homes are great! Any excuse for cake!

‘Seriously, I think my late mother had a better birthday in the care home than she had for years. Not sure she knew it was HER birthday though!’ 

thistlejak says,

‘First thing I would say to them is, “Don’t worry too much – it will be fine.”

‘Mother-in-law had three birthdays in her EMI (elderly mentally infirm) nursing home. The first one was in full lockdown and the other two were still under restrictions. Seeing the photos that the home provided for us, she had a ball even if she didn’t think it was her birthday.

‘The hardest thing is what to buy for them – we bought, over time, nice nighties, toiletries, artificial flowers and plants (don’t need looking after), slippers – you get the idea, useful mainly.

‘We also sent a big box of sweets “for her to share out amongst her friends” – suggested by our grandson as that is what he did at nursery.’ 

Pork Pie lady says,

‘Don’t feel you have got to do something special if they are not aware it is their birthday. It is more important they remain settled and stress free even if it means sticking the usual routine and doing else nothing at all.’ 

Sarasa says,

‘Mum’s first birthday in care was fun. I suggested the home get someone in to lead the residents in dancing as that was Mum’s great love. I think she had a fun time, we certainly did. Two weeks later everywhere was in lockdown. 

‘The following year we could only see her through a screen. My husband and I devised a dance for her to All That Jazz. I don’t know what she thought of it, but it cheered the staff up no end. Later that day they had a Sinatra impersonator singing in the garden which she also enjoyed. 

‘Last year her new care home brought a cake to her bedside. She said it was horrible, but I thought it was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had.

‘This year her birthday is next week and I’m looking forward to the cake even if she isn’t.’ 

phill says,

‘Keep it low key. Sometimes dementia seems to affect the person’s ability to have or show empathy, and however much effort you have taken to choose a card and gifts, however many miles you have driven and however long you have had to take off work to be there, they may just bin the card after a cursory glance and carry on with whatever they were doing before you arrived!’ 

Banjomansmate says

‘Because he wouldn’t go downstairs to the communal rooms on his birthday, the staff at The Banjoman’s care home produced a beautifully decorated cake, a card and a wrapped fun T-shirt as a present for him up in his room while I was there.

‘The cake was shared around with everyone and we had a piece each with afternoon tea.’ 

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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My husband has been “away” from our home for over six years, and each year I have organised an entertainer to go into the Care Home to sing. Music from the 60/70s (our jiving years) always brings my husband to life, and though confined to a wheelchair and has Alzheimer’s , thoroughly enjoys swinging his arms to the rhythm and his face lights up. I now make sure his radio is on all the time ( Smooth Radio) as he is also confined to his room. MUSIC is the best free medicine available.
I believe in making the day special; the care home makes a big effort, and we all visit with the children, bringing cards and gifts, and we know she enjoys it. And even if she doesn't remember much about it later, the feelings will stay with her; the feelings of being loved, and cared for, and valued, and that is what is important. Remember, the factual memories may disappear, but the emotional memories are much longer lasting.