Is it a good idea to bring my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease to a big family gathering for Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a time for family togetherness, socializing, memories and celebrations. However, these events can cause confusion and anxiety for the affected individual, but with a little patience and understanding, you and your mother can have a pleasant and meaningful experience.
Family and friends who haven’t seen your mother 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 before your arrival, not only about the disease, but also about your mother’s particular cognitive deficits. Encourage them to have conversations with your mother and keep her engaged during the visit. Advise them, for example, to listen carefully and that it is okay to answer repeated questions with the same answers.
It’s important for them to know how to stay positive around her and not question her about her memory problems or challenge her by starting a conversation with “Don’t you remember?” These questions can increase your anxiety and confusion.
The dialogue should revolve around the conversation of your choice, and she may feel more comfortable talking about Thanksgivings as a child or younger adult than the ones you’ve celebrated together in recent years. If your mom has young grandchildren, it might be a good idea to prepare a few questions ahead of time to ask her that would elicit positive and happy responses from your mom and that won’t threaten or make her feel uncomfortable in any way.
Also, you might want to keep some old photos handy as conversation starters and reminiscing tools and just let family members follow suit. Of course, they should overlook or ignore any mistakes you make in conversation or in identifying photographs.
Your mother might feel uncomfortable with so much external stimulation at large gatherings. Consider choosing a quiet, comfortable space away from where the meeting is taking place so that only one or two people can visit your mother at a time. Not only will this give you private and intimate time with family and friends, but it will eliminate distractions that would cause you anxiety and difficulty understanding and responding to conversations.
If your mom enjoyed cooking for Thanksgiving, give her simple tasks, praise the result, and know that helping with the preparations gives her a sense of purpose and pride.
Your mother’s attention span may decrease during the day and she may become tired and irritable. You are the best judge of your mother when she has reached her maximum tolerance level, meaning she has had enough, so keep in mind that when it’s time to go, you have to go. Most likely, after a period of time, your mother will want to return to her familiar environment and enjoy the peace and quiet.
In general, especially at Thanksgiving, you are making memories and the emotions brought on 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.