It may come as a surprise to you that those with mid to later stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia may not remember that it is Thanksgiving! People with Alzheimer’s disease are living in the moment. Their days and weeks run together and they are not counting the minutes until they see you again. Granted, they may still be able to give details of forty years ago that may surprise you, but their short term memory is no longer processing new information. Family members often feel guilty when they even think about excluding their loved one from any family celebration, but the older adult with memory loss may actually be happier not being involved.
Most holiday gatherings are attended by large numbers of people and children. The day is usually filled with alot of hustle and bustle, confusing sounds and everyone is talking at once. Situations as such, can sometimes bring about unpleasant memories and emotions associated with certain family members. Thanksgiving can cause extreme levels of anxiety for someone with dementia, turning a wonderful day into a confusing and agonizing ordeal.The dinner is often more formal and not at the regularly scheduled meal time. For “ALL” of these reasons, you may want to consider not having your loved one with memory loss to join your Thanksgiving dinner.
Those who have Alzheimer’s and other dementia's require a set routine, with peace and quiet. Imagine how you would feel if you could not remember the faces of the people who were attending and you could not even find the bathroom. Friends and relatives may ask multiple questions and continue to confuse the older adult even more.
If you do decide to bring your loved one with dementia to the family gathering, here are some tips to help make the day enjoyable for all.
You may want to share your loved one’s diagnosis with those who will be attending your Thanksgiving dinner. Explain the limitations the disease has created. Educate them as to the proper way to approach and communicate with your loved one, and how to include him or her in the conversation as much as possible.
You might also consider asking a relative who is close to your loved one to help by keeping an eye on his or her anxiety levels as the day progresses. They can be a big help when you are busy with other guests and duties.
Try and schedule dinner early in the day. Individuals with dementia are particularly sensitive to the hours between daylight and evening. Encourage reminiscing about the past. If your loved one still has longer term memory intact, consider bringing out some old photo albums and putting them in convenient places to inspire conversation. This can be a great way for younger family members to engage with your loved one, as well as with other older family members.
Lastly, provide a quiet place for “down time”. A short nap or some quiet time off in a separate area provides a nice break for someone with Dementia.
Whatever you decide, enjoy each other and cherish the moments, Happy Thanksgiving.