Thanksgiving Scenario

Thanksgiving and Dementia

For people living with dementia, Thanksgiving can disrupt the structure of a their normal day, which can be problematic. Our video below demonstrates how Betty and her care partner Sally are experiencing Thanksgiving. This short, animated video demonstrates some of the issues that may affect Betty. After watching the video, scroll down to learn more about what could have been done differently and some tips on managing Thanksgiving when a person is living with dementia.

Helpful Thanksgiving Tips

Below are some tips to help you manage during Thanksgiving. Click on the arrow to learn more.

It is important to pay extra attention to those living with dementia, especially during the holidays when their normal lifestyle may be disrupted. If changes are noticed, try identifying the items or situations that you feel could be the issue and remove them. Here are a few things to look for:

Sudden changes in behavior such as anxiety and agitation

Wandering, as this can be a sign they are looking for a quieter, less busy or scary place

Changes in sleep

Saying “I want to go home” or “I want my mother”

For example, Sally could easily notice that Betty was scared and anxious after a large group of family and friends came over for Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes it can be very obvious as in the video, but oftentimes the signs are more subtle. Make sure to pay close attention to all the clues.

Large gatherings may cause anxiety and stress for a person living with Dementia. Try to limit your party to a few close family members and friends, or have your family visit in small groups rather than large parties. 

Try and keep your holiday decor simple, so that it does not alter the home environment too much.

Decorations such as candles, should be monitored and kept in a safe space or secured to reduce the risk of a fire. 

Do not have fake fruit or foods out for display, as the person living with Dementia may believe they are real and try to eat them. 

Play familiar holiday music to calm and relax the person with Dementia. Music can trigger old memories and remind the person of good times they shared with family and friends in the past. 

For those living with Dementia who experience “Sundown Syndrome” which tends to happen after the sunsets., try and have dinner at an earlier time if possible.  Eating at an earlier time in the day may reduce the Sundown Syndrome effects. 

Make sure there is a quiet space in the house where the person living with Dementia can retreat to if he or she gets overwhelmed by all the festive activities. You can put some of her favorite music in the room. Also consider a short nap as this can provide the person with a much needed break, which will then enable them to return back to their holiday dinner.

You could also put a small table in the quiet room where the person living with Dementia, and a few other family members, may eat Thanksgiving dinner. 

Giving the person living with Dementia a job to do can make them feel valued and appreciated in the Thanksgiving meal preparations. The job can be as simple as setting the placemats or preparing a fruit tray.

Having them be apart of the preparations will make them feel connected and useful.

Just make sure the task you give them is not too difficult, which could end up making them frustrated and upset. 

A few additional tips

Click on the arrows in front of each topic below to learn more about some of the issues that Betty may be facing.

For many people, Thanksgiving can bring back fond memories of early times such as cooking the turkey, decorating the house and eating pumpkin pie. If the individual living with dementia still enjoys the holiday, allow and even encourage them to participate. Just be sure to keep a close eye on them and look for any signs of agitation, anxiety or other sudden changes in behaviors.

Consider playing soft, soothing music that they are familiar with and doing activities that are part of their normal life. Try as much as possible to make life the same as it always is.

If you have no control over all the things that go on during Thanksgiving, consider arranging for them to visit another loved one in a more remote and quieter place could be beneficial for this individual. 

Speak with your family and friends before they arrive, to educate them on how the person living with Dementia reacts in certain situations. 

Ask them to take turns talking to the person living with Dementia, as everyone trying to talk to them at once may be overwhelming. 

Have the family ask questions that stir up positive memories such as “What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?”

Do not ask the person living with Dementia if they remember certain things or people, ask them questions such as “How did you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?”

You may want to have a schedule with different family members who can take responsibility of the person living with Dementia. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, it may be difficult to prepare the meal as well as take care of the person living with dementia. 

You could also hire a caregiver, who would watch over the person living with dementia, so that you can focus on hosting. 

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