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7 helpful tips to make Thanksgiving dementia-friendly

The tips include ways to prepare your loved ones for the event and what to do when they arrive.

WASHINGTON — With the holidays vastly approaching, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering some helpful tips for families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses ensure their Thanksgiving celebration is dementia-friendly. 

“Families caring for a loved one with a dementia-related illness deserve to join together and celebrate Thanksgiving, and there a few simple steps they can take to make that celebration as joyful as possible,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s President & CEO. “Being proactive and prepared are the best tools caregivers can use to give their loved one a Happy Thanksgiving.”

Here are seven tips to help make a Thanksgiving celebration dementia-friendly:

  1. Prepare your loved one. Try to familiarize them with the guests before the event by showing photos, sharing stories, or arranging a phone or Facetime chat prior to the celebration. An invitation can also be made for the event to share with your loved one so they know details of what will be happening.
  2. 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 for them—especially if they have not seen the person recently. 
  3. Factor the person’s routine into the scheduling. Changing the daily routine of a person living with dementia can be challenging, so to the best of their ability, plan the celebration around that routine. For example, if the person usually takes an afternoon walk, build in time for that.
  4. Host the celebration early. People living with dementia are prone to “sundowning,” a syndrome which can cause confusion in the late afternoon-early evening as the sun sets. This can intensify when adding a celebration with a house full of guests. Consider hosting the celebration earlier in the day.
  5. Plan for help. 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 spending time with your loved one while you are preparing for the celebration.
  6. 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, and other activities. Playing familiar music or going through old photos are great forms of reminiscence that can bring joy during the celebration. You can also try singing familiar songs together.
  7. Have a quiet space available. Prepare a quiet space 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 a stuffed animal that will help them feel safe and comfortable. 

According to AFA, people should try to control the flow of visitors when possible; those in early stages are better able to interact than those in later stages. 

Families who have 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’s Helpline, seven days a week, by phone at 866-232-8484, text message at 646-586-5283, or by web chat.


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