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Planning For Thanksgiving

If a family member has Alzheimer's or dementia, some considerations can be planned for this Thanksgiving so the whole family will have an enjoyable time.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, most families are putting together their shopping lists and assigning different dishes for people to bring. If someone in your family has Alzheimer’s, there are some additional considerations that need to be planned in advance to increase the likelihood that everyone will be able to enjoy the day.

Think simple

Most people with Alzheimer’s do best with a predictable daily routine. By definition, a holiday represents a break from the routine, which can be disorienting. Try to keep most the routine of a normal day, and consider whether one large Thanksgiving gathering with all the family will be better than shorter visits throughout the weekend with different relatives.

Plan ahead but don’t explain ahead

There is a tendency to try to prepare the person with dementia for any event that will change the daily routine. However these efforts can confuse the person more and make them anxious, or have no effect as the person does not remember your coaching. If you are taking your loved one to a different setting, leave plenty of time to get there and explain as you go.

Think short

For someone with Alzheimer’s, focusing for long periods of time can be exhausting. You may want to think twice about a schedule that has your loved one “on the go” for hours at a time. Consider whether your Thanksgiving gathering could be just for dessert. Or perhaps plan to arrive just before the meal and leave shortly afterwards.

What to say after hello?

This is a common problem families and friends encounter as those with dementia can find it hard to engage in the give and take of normal conversation. Plan a few activities that people can do with your loved one. These activities allow for an easier conversation and makes your loved one feel part of the preparations. These activities can include

  • Setting the table

  • Folding napkins

  • Stirring or mixing ingredients with supervision

  • Helping with decorations on the table, such as name cards or flowers

  • Sweeping the walkway

  • Helping to fill a bird feeder


Old photo albums or digital picture frames can be a great way to start a conversation about times that your loved one can still remember. If you don’t have old photos, you can still ask about past times, what they remember about holidays when they were young, their favorite traditions and foods.

Show affection

Many older people no longer have a lot of physical affection. A touch on the shoulder, holding hands, a hug all communicate love and caring to people when words fail.


Music has a unique place in the human memory. Very often people can remember the words and tunes to songs when much else has been lost. Sing the songs that your family associates with Thanksgiving, or music that is special to your loved one. If you are not up for singing yourself, find some CDs that you can listen to together.

Materials for activities

It can take a while for that bird to cook, so have some things around that people can do together, such as

  • Card games such as Uno, Go Fish, Old Maid

  • Easy jig saw puzzles (avoid childish themes)

  • Things that can be sorted and admired and put into different containers, such as colored beads, silk flowers in different colors, screws, or cards

Watch a movie or TV program together

There are programs on television that people can watch together and share, such as parades, football games and the National Dog Show. Pull up some chairs and enjoy together.

Keep comfort in mind

If you are taking your loved one to another home, bring an extra sweater or a throw blanket just in case. Many elderly people are cold at temperatures that others consider comfortable.

Have a quiet room available. If you are making a daylong celebration, have a quiet room available for a nap. All the activity and people can be tiring. If you think that your loved one has had enough for the day, don’t be afraid to leave early.

Consider celebrating at the assisted living or nursing home

If you don’t think that your loved one is able to comfortably participate in a Thanksgiving gathering with family, consider a quiet celebration in place. It may be that the family will have a better visit if the loved one remains in a familiar setting and family members come to visit. Spread out the visits so that your loved one is not overwhelmed with too many people all at once.


For more information about dementia and local services call Memory Matters Utah/Nevada at 435-319-0407. Memory Matters is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization providing services in southern Utah and Mesquite, Nevada.

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