Thanksgiving and Alzheimer’s: Plan ahead, then enjoy present | Entertainment/Life

Is it a good idea to bring my mom who has Alzheimer’s disease to a large family gathering for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a time of family togetherness, socialization, reminiscing and celebrations. However, such events can cause confusion and anxiety for the affected individual, but with a little patience and understanding, you and your mom can have an enjoyable and meaningful experience.

Relatives and friends who have not seen your mom in a while may feel uncomfortable around her, not knowing how to react or what to say. It would be a good idea to educate them first prior your arrival, not only about the disease, but also about your mom’s particular cognitive deficits. Encourage them to have conversations with your mom and to keep her engaged during the visit. Advise them, for instance, to listen attentively to her, and that it is OK to answer repeated questions with the same answers.

It is important for them to know to keep positive around her and to not question her about her memory issues or challenge her by starting a conversation with “Don’t you remember?” Such questions can cause her increased anxiety and confusion.

The dialogue should revolve around her conversation of choice, and she might feel more comfortable talking about Thanksgiving when she was a child or younger adult than the ones you have celebrated together in most recent years. If your mom has young grandchildren, it might be a good idea to prepare a few questions beforehand for them to ask her that would produce positive and happy responses from your mom and that would not threaten her or make her feel uncomfortable in any way.

Further, you may want to have some old photographs handy as conversation starters and reminiscing tools and just allow relatives to follow her lead with them. Of course, they should overlook or ignore any mistakes she makes in conversation or in identifying the photographs.

Your mom might grow uneasy with so much external stimulation in large gatherings. Consider choosing a quiet, comfortable space away from where the gathering is taking place so that just one or two people can visit your mom at a time. This will not only give her some private, intimate time with relatives and friends, but it will remove the distractions that would cause her anxiety and difficulty in her understanding and responding to conversations.

If your mom enjoyed cooking at Thanksgiving, give her simple tasks to do, praise the outcome, and know that helping in the preparations gives her a sense of purpose and pride.

Your mom’s attention span may wane during the day, and she may grow tired and irritable. You are the best judge of your mother when she has reached her maximum level of tolerance, i.e., she’s had enough, so be aware that when it’s time to leave, you need to leave. More than likely, after a period of time, your mom will want to go back to her familiar surroundings and enjoy the quiet.

Overall, at Thanksgiving especially, you are making memories and the emotions stirred by this special day will last long after the memory of your time together has faded. Enjoy Thanksgiving and your mom in the present moment.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, author of  “What My Grandchildren Taught Me About Alzheimer’s Disease,” at

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