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Hosting Thanksgiving? How to Make it Easier for a Parent With Dementia

Thanksgiving is a special time for family and close friends to gather and share laughter, give thanks and enjoy great food. For most of us, the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving Day only adds to its enjoyment. If you are caring for a mom or dad with dementia, however, the combination of people coming and going, laughing and talking and sitting down to a big meal can have an unsettling effect.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, with a little special consideration, you can help your parent optimize their Thanksgiving Day experience and make yours and everyone else’s more enjoyable as well. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Stick to parent’s routine as much as possible. If dad normally naps at 1:00 make an effort to stick with that schedule. It will help preserve his energy when guests arrive.
  2. Give them something purposeful to do. Let your parent help with simple, but purposeful tasks, such as putting napkins on the table, or setting out plates of food. Keep the tasks small and meaningful. Allow them to take short rests or to retire to a quieter area as noise levels rise.
  3. Let them smell and taste Thanksgiving. For those with dementia, the smell and taste of familiar foods can be calming and reassuring. Let dad sit in the kitchen for a while and “taste-test” your dishes, while he enjoys the aromas.
  4. Keep them slightly off to the side of all the action. Resist the impulse to put mom at the center of all the festivities. It can be overwhelming and trigger anxiety. If possible, find an area or room right off the center of the action. That way your family members can spend some one on one time with them in a quieter area of your home.
  5. Be prepared for possible “Sundown Syndrome”. As the sun sets, the transition between the waning natural light and the artificial light from lamps can cause anxiety to those with dementia. Make sure the inside of your home is well lit, as the sun is setting. You might consider turning on some quiet music near mom to help screen out some of the surrounding noise.

If you can make these simple adjustments to your Thanksgiving Day, you will find yourself able to provide your family and yourself with a meaningful holiday, knowing that you are doing everything possible to help your loved one feel included, safe and secure.

Happy Thanksgiving!