It may surprise you that someone living 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 you arrive. Yes, they may still have long term memories including 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.
Many family gatherings are attended by large numbers of people and children. The day is usually filled with confusing sounds and everyone is talking at once. These occasions can sometimes bring about unpleasant memories and emotions associated with certain family members. The dinner is often more formal and not at the regularly scheduled meal time. For “ALL” of these reasons, I encourage you to think twice about inviting any older adult with memory loss to join your Thanksgiving dinner.
Alzheimer’s patients need 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. Someone with memory loss may forget to use their napkin or even forget to wait for the blessing before they start eating.
Before a big celebration you may want to try a smaller gathering. It is important to observe any change in behavior on an outing. Watch for signs of restlessness or for the person to appear to be afraid. The older adult may ask the same question over and over which can be troublesome for your guest who does not understand Alzheimer’s or dementia. These warning signs suggest that you should carefully consider how often they participate in any outing especially during the Holiday’s.
You can make a “Holiday” on any day of the week; you just have to add the fun stuff, like their favorite foods, flowers, and even decorations. On each visit take a hand written note or card for the older adult to read over and over after you have gone. It helps them to remember you and it can be very meaningful even days and weeks later.
You would be surprised how special even a one hour visit can be for someone with Alzheimer’s when you visit them in their safe and quiet environment. I promise that any parent would be especially proud of their children continuing family traditions that they may have established years ago. May God’s blessings be with each of you this Thanksgiving.