How to Have a Special Thanksgiving Holiday with a Loved One with Dementia

Can Grandma Come Over for Thanksgiving?


Thanksgiving is almost here. While you should be focused on what tonnage of turkey to buy for your family or how to make a pumpkin pie that your newly gluten-free niece can eat, you have one more big question to deal with. Can Grandma come over for Thanksgiving? If you are one of the millions of U.S. families who has a member suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may struggle with how to fit your loved one into your holiday plans. This is a legitimate concern, and there’s no reason to feel guilty about asking yourself whether or not it is a good idea to bring Grandma to Thanksgiving. Here are three options to consider:

1.      Bring Grandma to Thanksgiving

If your loved one is in the beginning or intermediate stage of Alzheimer’s, they can probably handle a casual, low-key Thanksgiving dinner at your home with family members. It is important to create a supportive environment for your loved one. Contact your family member’s care facility at least a few days in advanced and let them know that you will be taking your loved one to a family Thanksgiving. The staff will be able to assist your family member with dressing for the outing and prepare them for the trip.

You’ll also want to prepare your other family members. If certain relatives haven’t seen your loved one in a long time, let them know that Grandma isn’t the same as she used to be. Help younger children understand that Grandma may ask the same questions multiple times, be forgetful, or get easily confused.

Keep the atmosphere of the dinner warm and supportive. Let your loved one decide if or when they want to join the conversation. Try not to keep your loved one out too long, either. After a few hours, they may grow tired or irritable.

2.      Visit Grandma Before Dinner

If you think it would be best not to bring Grandma home for Thanksgiving dinner (and it’s completely okay if that is your decision!), then consider visiting her earlier in the day at her care facility instead. Since this may be one of the few times you have a lot of your family together, it can be a great opportunity for everyone to pay a visit to your loved one. Again, you’ll want to call ahead to your loved one’s memory care facility and let them know how many people are coming to visit and when you expect to arrive. The facility is likely putting on their own activities, so give them time to make adjustments.

Consider keeping your group no larger than necessary. Maybe a lot of people want to visit Grandma, but she could feel overwhelmed if 20 people crowd into her room, especially if she isn’t very familiar with certain distant relations. Let your loved one determine the pace of the meeting, and consider bringing photographs or telling stories from previous Thanksgivings.

3.      Celebrate Thanksgiving at the Memory Care Facility

It is likely that your loved one’s memory care facility will be putting on some special activity related to Thanksgiving and may even be serving a Thanksgiving meal. At Sunshine Care, for example, we are hosting the showing of the Macy’s Day Parade and offering a Thanksgiving Luncheon Feast. If you feel that it is best not to bring your loved one home for Thanksgiving, then you might want to participate in Thanksgiving at the memory care facility. Most memory care facilities welcome family participation as long as you give them enough notice. Of course, that doesn’t mean 20 of you can show up and expect a free meal, but if you and a few family members want to celebrate with your loved one, you will probably be warmly welcomed.

This is a great option if your loved one is in the intermediate or advance stages of dementia and needs a higher level of care and/or may not be emotionally stable enough to enjoy a meal at home with lots of family members.

What is the Right Decision for You?

There is no right or wrong decision here – only the best decision for your family. A lot will depend on the condition of your loved one and whether or not you believe they would be more comfortable joining family at home for Thanksgiving or whether they need the care, support, and familiarity of their memory care facility. If you haven’t seen your loved one in several months, it is a good idea to visit them before making a decision, since symptoms can accelerate or change quickly. It is also a good idea to consult with the caregivers at the facility who see and interact with your loved one on a daily basis. These men and women can give you great insight into what would be in the best interest of your loved one.

Here at Sunshine Care, we wish you much love, connection, and friendship over this Thanksgiving. We encourage you to remember that even though dementia and Alzheimer’s can be very challenging, your family member still has many smiles, hugs, kisses, and love to give, and that is truly something to be thankful for!

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