Thanksgiving Tips for Your Loved Ones with Dementia

With Thanksgiving almost here, most people are busy planning their dinner, shopping lists, and Black Friday festivities. For someone who has a family member with Dementia, or even Alzheimer’s – their planning may be a little different. Holidays with your loved ones don’t have to be overwhelming. There are plenty of ways to make your holiday with family enjoyable and even to create new memories.

Think Simple – 

  • Sometimes when your loved one’s routine changes to accommodate a holiday, it can be overwhelming. Give them time to explain what is happening.

Think Short – 

  • Limit the number of guests at the meal. You might even want to have two different Thanksgiving meals if there are a lot of people who would want to come. People with dementia have trouble processing and tracking information, so if there a lot of people, they may have extra difficulty following a conversation or even hearing.
  • Consider if your Thanksgiving gathering should be “just dessert” – so their day isn’t too long without their routines.

Reminisce – 

  • While preparing the food, reminisce about past Thanksgivings. But don’t ask, “Do you remember when …” something happened, since you don’t know how much has been forgotten. Instead, try starting your memories with “Wasn’t it fun when we …”
  • Try playing music that your loved ones grew up with. It will help stimulate memories and make for a more enjoyable evening. 

Show Affection – 

  • A touch on the shoulder, holding of hands or a hug can communicate with your loved one that you are there and you care for them.

Activities – 

  • Plan something for your loved one, such as an activity. Try a card game such as Uno, Go Fish or Old Maid; an easy jig saw puzzle; or things that could be put into different containers. 
  • Incorporate the person with dementia in food preparation as appropriate, perhaps by stirring a mixture or setting a table. This will help stimulate the mind by keeping their hands and brain active. 

Have Quiet Time – 

  • Make sure there is a place for the person with dementia to rest if he or she feels overwhelmed. Don’t be upset if they wish to be excused from the table or area.
  • If you’re making a day-long Thanksgiving celebration, have a space available for a nap. If you think your loved one had enough for the day, don’t be afraid to leave early. 

Comfort Smells – 

  • Fill your home with pleasant, traditional, soothing aromas. Put a couple of teaspoons of vanilla in a baking pan to make the kitchen smell like desserts baking. Cooking the meal may also produce smells that are familiar to your loved one with dementia.

Celebrate at Assisted Living or Nursing Home – 

  • If you think your loved one is in a comfortable place, consider having a quiet Thanksgiving dinner at their place. Sometimes having family visit in a familiar setting to them won’t feel so overwhelming.

Remember, Thanksgiving is more than just the turkey and food – it’s time to be thankful for family and friends.