How to plan a 90th birthday party for a person with dementia

It’s a big milestone birthday, and you want to do something special, but there are some important considerations when planning a party for a person with dementia.

I recently helped a client plan their mother’s 90th at her assisted living community. Here are some guidelines and tips to we used to make it a success:

  • Keep it small. The guest list should only include close family or friends. Too many people will be overwhelming and cognitively over-stimulating. This could lead to disengagement, confusion or agitation. I recommend no more than 15-20 people. This is not the time to invite all the long-lost cousins. Although having similar-aged peers of the birthday person is helpful for some distant memories.
  • Plan an activity. Put together a retrospective photo-montage and show it on a big screen TV, not on a small laptop. Sit the guest of honor directly in front of the TV for viewing. Have all guests gather around and reminisce together to share stories and help the younger folks know who is who. Have a long delay on the photos to give adequate time for memories to surface and repeat the whole slide show on a loop. Take the time to find and scan old photos and vintage documents, too. You want to jog the memories of your loved one with photos from their childhood, not just your own.
  • Ask guests to share a story, or bring letters written by the birthday person that they can read aloud. Humor is always good.
  • Choose a menu of foods that are easy to eat and are favorites of the guest of honor. It is not unusual for the event to be distracting and therefore not much eating happens for the person with dementia. Pay special attention to offer beverages for hydration, and small bites of food.
  • Assign someone to pay attention to the non-verbal cues and behavior of the person with dementia so you can be aware when a bathroom break or quiet time might be needed.
  • Remind your guests in advance of ways to engage positively. For example when they arrive and greet the person with dementia, provide their name and context of who they are, rather than saying, “ Do you remember me?”
  • Lastly, pick a location that is easy, convenient and familiar for the birthday person. You don’t want them disoriented and agitated from a long car ride or unfamiliar environment.

With proper planning and the right environment, a birthday celebration for a loved one with dementia can be a stress-free and joyous occasion.


by Joan Garbow, MSW, LCSW, CCM
Advanced Member of The Aging Life Care Association