Thanksgiving is all about family traditions: green bean casserole on the good china, the grandkids fighting over the wishbone, a huge wedge of Aunt Sue’s pumpkin pie, and everyone nodding off in front of the game. However, if one of your family members has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you may need to make some adjustments to your game plan this year:
Prepare guests. Let your guests know what to expect, particularly if they haven’t seen Mom or Dad in a while. Prepare them for the potential your parent won’t recognize them or may confuse them with someone else. Also encourage them to engage your loved one in conversation, but remind guests to be patient as it may take that person longer than normal to finish their thoughts.
No-pressure reminiscing. Your family member may remember very little about past Thanksgivings, so don’t begin your reminiscing with: “Do you remember when …?” Instead, start conversations about the old days with: “Wasn’t it fun when we …” That opening allows them to become part of the conversation without any pressure to recall the details.
Smaller groups. People suffering with Alzheimer’s have a hard time keeping up with conversations under normal circumstances. But when there is a large group at the table, Aunt Mary or Uncle Bob may experience extra trouble following along. You may need to limit the guest list or break a larger group into two smaller ones so that your loved one can try to participate in the talk around the table.
Prevent fatigue. Perhaps you’re accustomed to sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at 6 or 7 pm. Depending on your loved one’s regular schedule, you may need to bump up meal time to prevent them from becoming over tired. And if you’re guests at someone else’s house, make sure there is a quiet place where your family member can go if they become overwhelmed or just need a rest.
Get their help. Involve Mom or Dad in the preparation process, something safe like stirring the pie filling or setting the table. These commonplace tasks as well as the familiar smells coming from the kitchen can bring back pleasant memories of the holidays for someone with Alzheimer’s. Plus asking your loved one for help will make them feel needed.
Have anything to add? Share your tips for making those with Alzheimer’s more comfortable over the holidays.