Preparing for Thanksgiving With a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

The wintertime holidays kick off with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is traditionally when family and friends come together to celebrate the season. At the heart of the Thanksgiving celebration typically is the sharing of what can prove to be a rather extravagant and particularly lengthy meal.

If you have a family member or other loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may have concerns that run along a pair of courses. First, you may wonder what you can do to make your Thanksgiving celebration more accessible to your family member or other loved one with Alzheimer’s. Second, you may wonder what steps you can take to put your family members or other loved ones in a better position to communicate with and enjoy the company of a guest with Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offers a selection of tips to assist families affected by this disease and other dementia-related conditions.

“Families caring for a loved one with a dementia-related illness deserve to join together and celebrate Thanksgiving, and there are a few simple steps they can take to make that celebration as joyful as possible,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., President and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Being proactive and prepared are the best tools caregivers can use to give their loved one a happy Thanksgiving.”

The tips for Thanksgiving developed by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America include:

  • Prepare your loved one with Alzheimer’s
  • Prepare your guests
  • Incorporate the routines of your loved one with Alzheimer’s into the holiday schedule
  • Celebrate early
  • Plan for assistance
  • Keep your loved one with Alzheimer’s involved
  • Create a quiet space

Prepare Your Loved One

There are several key steps that you can take to prepare your loved one with Alzheimer’s for your Thanksgiving celebration. First, you can create an invitation to the event for your loved one. In the invitation, you can specify what will occur during the celebration. Individuals with dementia typically are more apprehensive about going to places or attending events when they do not know what will happen.

Second, try to better familiarize your loved one with Alzheimer’s with the other guests in attendance. You cannot assume your loved one will readily remember guests he or she has known for a long time.

You can accomplish this by sharing photos of guests. You might also discuss stories and experiences that your loved one has had with specific guests.

Prepare Your Guests

You will also want to prepare your guests about your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. This particularly is the case if your other guests have not seen your loved one with Alzheimer’s for some time. Additionally, even if some of your guests may have seen your loved one fairly recently, a person with Alzheimer’s disease can change quickly. Therefore, you will want to be candid and respectful in explaining the current condition of your loved one. You don’t want your other guests to be alarmed when they see your loved one with Alzheimer’s at your Thanksgiving celebration.

You will want to pay particular attention to providing suggestions regarding how your other guests can best communicate with your loved one with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association has a suggested strategy for talking with people who have dementia of some type.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it can be difficult to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s disease, especially if they are in the later stages of the illness. However, there are some things you can do to make communication easier for both of you.

First, try to keep conversations short and simple. Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon or complicated words. Be patient and take your time responding to questions. If the person you’re talking to needs help to understand what you’re saying, rephrase it until they do.

It’s also important to be aware of changes in the person’s mood or behavior. If they seem agitated or angry, try to diffuse the situation by changing the topic of conversation or redirecting their attention elsewhere. Be supportive and understanding, and never criticize or judge them.

Most importantly, remember that people with Alzheimer’s disease still want to feel like they’re a part of the conversation. So be sure to include them whenever possible, even if they need to follow along. The simplest thing you can do is make eye contact and smile warmly.

Factor Loved One’s Normal Routine Into Holiday Schedule

Changes in the daily routine of a person with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia can be unsettling for that individual. For this reason, you can make your holiday more enjoyable for a person with Alzheimer’s by working to follow that individual’s routines. For example, if a person with Alzheimer’s typically takes a walk in the afternoon at a particular time, arrangements should be made to see that the stroll can occur.

Hold Thanksgiving Celebration Early

Individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can be prone to what is known as sundowning. This is also known as sundowner’s syndrome. Sundowner’s syndrome is a condition that primarily affects elderly people. It is characterized by a severe decline in mental abilities and confusion in the evening hours, which leads to an inability to recognize people or places. The syndrome can also cause agitation, aggressiveness, and even hallucinations. There is no known cure for sundowner’s syndrome, but medications and therapies can help to improve symptoms. For caregivers of elderly patients with sundowner’s syndrome, it is important to be aware of the condition and to take steps to ensure patient safety.

You can avoid problems associated with sundowner’s syndrome by holding Thanksgiving meal earlier in the day than your normal routine. For example, you might consider serving a Thanksgiving meal at noon or in the afternoon.

Plan for Assistance

There will be at least some added responsibilities if you have a Thanksgiving guest in a more advanced stage of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Therefore, you should not be afraid to ask for assistance in putting on a Thanksgiving celebration. This might include making the meal something of a potluck. You might also seek help shopping for the event. If you have a guest or guests who get along particularly well with your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you might ask that this person or persons spend more time with your loved one during the event itself.

Keep Your Loved One Involved

During your Thanksgiving celebration, you will want to keep your loved one involved. You best accomplish this by involving them in accessible activities that they enjoy rather than ones that are more difficult for them to participate in.

Create a Quiet Space

As part of preparing your Thanksgiving celebration, make sure you have a quiet space for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Make sure there is a space your loved one can go to if a celebration becomes too much for that person.

By following these suggestions, you can plan and execute a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration that will be enjoyed by all of your guests, including a guest with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.