Thanksgiving! A time for big family dinners and loads of fun, right? As much as aging parents and other loved ones may look forward to time-honored traditions, a few adjustments may be needed in order to keep the “festive” in this year’s holiday. Advance planning and loads of flexibility is important for all family members during the hub-bub of the holidays:
- Start early. Prepare aging parents or spouses in advance, especially if they have memory issues or suffer from dementia. Start talking about Thanksgiving several days in advance: remind them that the day is coming, talk about what foods are likely to be served, and discuss who is coming (and what relation each person is to the loved one, if necessary). The timing can be tricky: some seniors with memory issues will need several days of reinforcement, but others may become agitated if they hear about the event far in advance. However, most caregivers know their family members well enough to determine the best course to take.
- Get feedback. Another advantage of starting early is that it enables caregivers to involve senior loved ones in the planning process and get feedback about anything that may be of concern. For example, if Cousin George is planning to come for the first time in fifteen years, how will that affect Mother? Will she be thrilled to see him again? Will she be nervous because there’s a reason that George hasn’t been around for so long? Would it be helpful to review just who George is and try to retrieve some memories about him?
- Set the stage. Some caregivers find that they need to rearrange furniture to make Thanksgiving more physically comfortable for aging parents and others. Does Father’s favorite chair need to be moved so that he can converse more easily with guests? Do you need to clear new pathways so Mom doesn’t risk tripping? Do you need to set up a separate room for the noisier guests so that the senior loved one can hear better and be less distracted?
- Plan foods carefully. Food plays a big part in Thanksgiving celebrations. It’s important that seniors receive food that is appropriate for them if they have dietary restrictions (low salt, high fiber, etc.). It may also be necessary to take steps – such as pureeing certain vegetables – to ensure that seniors can easily consume their dinner.
- Break as needed. Boisterous conversation in a large group of people can be invigorating – but it may also be a little over-stimulating. Keep an eye on seniors to see whether they need to take occasional breaks from all the noise and activity.
And, remember to remain flexible. One family friend tells the story of hosting Thanksgiving and as soon as her mother arrived, Mom became overwhelmed and wanted to return to her assisted living community. The family’s turkey was placed back in the oven, the afternoon games and visiting resumed, and two of her adult children returned with Mom to her own apartment. Mom felt better in a familiar environment and she welcomed small groups of the family throughout the day. It may not have been a Norman Rockwell-type Thanksgiving, but it was the perfect solution for the family — for that year.
With a little extra planning, Thanksgiving can be a chance for older ones to engage with others on a meaningful social level. May all our readers enjoy a happy and festive holiday this year!