Planning for Thanksgiving
With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, it is time to think about how to include those with dementia in the holiday celebration. Holidays can be wonderful, but stressful for many people. If you have a family member with memory loss, there are additional considerations that need to be taken into account to increase the likelihood that everyone will be able to enjoy the day.
Most people with Alzheimer’s do best with a predictable daily routine. By definition, a holiday represents a break from the routine, which can be disorienting. Try to keep most the routine of a normal day, and consider whether one large Thanksgiving gathering with all the family will be better than shorter visits throughout the weekend with different relatives.
Plan ahead but don’t explain ahead.
There is a tendency to try to prepare the person with dementia for upcoming events. These efforts usually either confuse the person and make them anxious, or have no effect, as the person does not remember your coaching. If you are taking your loved one to a different setting, leave plenty of time to get there and explain as you go.
Think shorter periods of time.
For someone with Alzheimer’s, engaging for long periods of time can be exhausting. Reconsider a schedule that has your loved one “on the go” for hours at a time. Your Thanksgiving gathering could be just for dessert. Or perhaps you could to arrive just before the meal and leave shortly afterwards.
What to say after hello?
This is a common problem, as those with dementia can find it hard to engage in the give and take of normal conversation. Photo albums or digital picture frames can be a great way to start a conversation about old times. If you don’t have any photos, ask open questions about past times, favorite foods, or family lore that your relative has previously described. Avoid questions that start with “Do you remember when….?”. Chances are the answer will be “No”, and everyone will feel badly.
If most people are in the kitchen, find a way to include everyone. Possible tasks include setting the table, helping with table settings, “supervising” the carving, or tasting a dish to make sure it is seasoned just right.
Many older people no longer experience physical affection. A touch on the shoulder, holding hands, or a hug communicates love and caring to people when words fail.
Keep comfort in mind.
If you are taking your loved one to another home, bring an extra change of clothes, and an extra sweater. Many elderly people are cold at temperatures that others consider comfortable.
Have a quiet room available.
If you are making a day-long celebration, have a quiet room available for a nap. All the activity and people can be tiring, and a nap may be in order. Further, if you think that your loved one has had enough for the day, leave early.
Consider celebrating at the assisted living or nursing home.
If you don’t think that your loved one is able to comfortably participate in a Thanksgiving gathering in another location with family, consider a quiet celebration in place. It may be that the family will have a better visit if the loved one remains in a familiar setting and family members come to visit. Spread out the visits so that your loved one is not overwhelmed with too many people all at once.
Best wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving celebration!