5 Steps To Ensure a Happy Thanksgiving With Dementia In The House

by | Nov 15, 2018 | Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Holiday Preparations


I really want Mom to be home with the family for Thanksgiving. We recently moved her to a Memory Care Home. She loves it there but I would feel terrible not including her in the family festivities. But I worry. Sometimes Mom gets anxious when there is a lot of noise or people around. And we are a large family! There will be 22 of us. Furthermore, we tend to be a bit loud especially when the football games start. I am not sure if we can have a Happy Thanksgiving with dementia. How can I make it work? Jill- Marie’s Adult Daughter and Primary Caregiver

We came up with a few ideas to help ensure a Happy Thanksgiving even when Mom has dementia.


1.Set Up a Quiet Room

A quiet room is crucial to creating a Happy Thanksgiving with dementia in the house! This will be a space where Mom can retreat when the noise and activity become overwhelming. Have some of Mom’s favorite music playing and some aromatherapy. You may even want to have a small card table set up in the room where Mom and a couple of other family members can eat in peace and quiet. Mom may not be the only one who wants to retreat here!

When the football games start, have someone retreat to the quiet room with mom. There is always one or two people in the family who are not interested in the games. A great activity could be to reminisce over old family photos.

2. Educate Family Members Before They Arrive

For those who have not seen your mom in a while, it is important to educate them about her behaviors. You do not need to go into great detail. But it is important they understand how to talk to her. Also, make sure you explain any anxiety triggers she may have.

Ask that they take turns visiting with mom. If everyone tries to talk to her at the same time it will be overwhelming. And remind them to smile! If they haven’t seen her in a long time they may be shocked at her appearance. Make sure it doesn’t show on their face. A few pointers you could give are:

Don’t Ask- Do you remember me?

Instead Say- Hi, I’m Bill your nephew. It is so good to see you.

This way if she doesn’t remember you, she will not feel embarrassed or anxious. Instead, she will focus on feeling good.

Don’t say- Don’t you remember last year at Thanksgiving?

Instead, say- How did you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?

She may talk about a time when she was a small child or she could talk about when her children were small. Until you know what time period Mom is in today don’t assume. Ask questions that help her to stir positive memories. Other examples include:

  • What is your favorite holiday song? If mom doesn’t come up with something tell her what your favorite holiday song is. In fact, you could go around the room with each person singing a verse of their favorite.
  • What was the best present you ever received?
  • What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?

3. Have Someone Be Responsible for Mom

Brain Health or Alzheimer's

This could be a family member (have a couple so no one person does this job by themselves). You may even want to set up a schedule so you know who is supposed to be in charge and when. The key is, you have to let go of control. Allow the person in charge of Mom to be in charge.

Or you could hire a paid caregiver to attend to her needs. If you are the one hosting the meal there is no way you can also take care of Mom. That is if you want to have an enjoyable day. Remember, it takes a village to care for someone with dementia.

4. Give Mom a Job

thanksgiving with dementia

Everyone wants to feel useful. Mom is no exception. Instead of sitting her in a chair on display, ask if she can set the table. Make sure someone is there to help her. Give her one item at a time. Maybe she could put placemats on the table or fix a tray with cookies and candies for after the meal. There is plenty to do and Mom wants to feel useful too.

5. Make a Gratitude Tree and Put Her in Charge

Thanksgiving With Dementia

Pair Mom with a couple of the grandchildren. Give them the job of asking everyone to write what they are grateful for this year. Mom can then stick the “gratitude note” on the tree. This activity will keep both Mom and the kids busy for a while. And it will put everyone in a great mood.

And remember, Mom does not have to stay the whole day.  A few hours may be all that she can handle. She is probably used to her routine where she lives.  But, with a little bit of Holiday planning, you will have a Happy Thanksgiving with Mom.


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