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How to create a dementia-friendly Thanksgiving

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is offering tips to help make Thanksgiving celebrations easier for caregivers and people with dementia. [File photo]

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is offering tips to help families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses to ensure their Thanksgiving celebrations are dementia-friendly.

“Families caring for a loved one with a dementia-related illness deserve to join together and celebrate Thanksgiving, and there are a few simple steps they can take to make that celebration as joyful as possible. Being proactive and prepared are the best tools caregivers can use to give their loved one a happy Thanksgiving,“ Charles Fuschillo, Jr., president and chief financial officer of the foundation, said in a press release.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America recommends:

  • Prepare your loved one. Try to familiarize them with the guests beforehand by showing photos, sharing stories or arranging a phone or FaceTime video chat prior to the celebration. You could also make an invitation to the event to share with your loved one so they know details and that it will be happening.
  • Prepare your guests. Consider sharing beneficial information with guests about your loved one — such as ways to communicate with the person, what they respond well to, and what may cause distress — especially if they haven’t seen the person recently. This will help facilitate positive interactions and engagement.
  • Factor the person’s routine into the scheduling. Changes in daily routines can be challenging for someone living with dementia, so to the greatest extent possible, plan the celebration around that routine. For example, if the person usually takes an afternoon walk, build in time for that.
  • Hold the celebration early. Individuals living with dementia are prone to “sundowning,” a syndrome that can cause agitation and confusion in the late afternoon and early evening as the sun sets. This can be compounded when adding a celebration with a house full of guests. Consider holding the celebration earlier in the day so your loved one feels more comfortable.
  • Ask for specific help. Preparing and holding a holiday gathering can be stressful even without the additional responsibilities of caring for a loved one with dementia. Relatives and friends are often eager to help, but may not know how. Don’t be afraid to let them know what you need, whether it’s asking them to bring a dish, help with cooking, shopping or decorating or spending time with your loved one while you’re preparing for the celebration.
  • Keep your loved one involved. Make adaptations that enable your loved one to participate in the celebration by focusing on what they can do, rather than what they cannot. Invite them to help by preparing ingredients for a simple dish, setting the table, decorating and other activities. Playing familiar music or going through old photos are great forms of reminiscence that can bring joy and foster positivity during the celebration. For intergenerational activities, try singing familiar songs together, doing art activities and having a snack together.
  • Have a quiet space available. Prepare a quiet place away from the crowd where the person with dementia can go if the celebration becomes too much for them. Have familiar comfort items available — such as a favorite blanket, sweater or stuffed animal — that will help them feel safe and comfortable. Try to control the flow of visitors when possible. Those in early stages of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are better able to interact than those in later stages.

Families with questions about creating a dementia-friendly Thanksgiving celebration or any other question relating to dementia or caregiving can contact the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Helpline seven days a week by phone at 1-866-232-8484, text message at 1-646-586-5283 or web chat at alzfdn.org.