Is it a good idea to bring my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, to a big Thanksgiving family gathering?
Thanksgiving is a time of family togetherness, socializing, remembrance and celebration. However, such events can create confusion and anxiety in the person involved, but with a little patience and understanding, you and your mother can have an enjoyable and meaningful experience.
Relatives and friends who haven’t seen your mother in a while may feel uncomfortable around her because they don’t know how to react or what to say. It would be a good idea to educate her not only about the illness but also about your mother’s particular cognitive deficits before you arrive. Encourage her to have conversations with your mother and keep her busy during the visit. For example, advise them to listen carefully and that it’s okay to answer repeated questions with the same answers.
It’s important for them to know that they are staying positive around them and not asking about their memory issues or challenging them by starting a conversation with, “Don’t you remember?” Such questions can cause her increased anxiety and confusion.
Dialogue should center around her conversation of choice, and she may feel more comfortable talking about Thanksgiving as a child or younger adult than the ones you’ve celebrated together over the past few years. If your mom has young grandchildren, it might be a good idea to prepare a few questions beforehand to ask her that would elicit positive and happy responses from your mom and that would not threaten her or make her feel uncomfortable in any way .
Also, you may want to keep some old photos handy as conversation starters and reminder tools, and simply allow relatives to follow suit. Of course, they should overlook or ignore any mistakes she makes in conversation or in identifying the photos.
Your mother might become restless with so much external stimulation in large gatherings. Consider choosing a quiet, comfortable spot away from the gathering place so only one or two people can visit your mother at a time. Not only does this buy her some private, intimate time with family and friends, but it also removes the distractions that would cause her anxiety and difficulty understanding and responding to conversations.
If your mom enjoys cooking on Thanksgiving, give her simple tasks, praise the result, and know that helping with the preparations makes her feel purposeful and proud.
Your mom’s attention span may decrease throughout the day, and she may become tired and irritable. You can judge your mother best when she’s at her maximum level of tolerance, ie, she’s had enough. So be aware that when it’s time to go, you have to go. Most likely, after a while, your mother will want to return to her familiar surroundings and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Overall, you create memories, especially on Thanksgiving, and the emotions this special day evokes will linger long after the memories of your time together have faded. Enjoy Thanksgiving and your mom in the present moment.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related conditions can be sent to Dana Territo, author of What My Grandchildren Taught Me About Alzheimer’s Disease, at [email protected]