Thanksgiving is not a holiday that surrounds itself with gifts, but is celebrated in the sharing of a meal, many families gather together in the afternoon for a mid-day meal or later in the day for dinner. For some people, family is just around the corner, in the next town, or just a few hours drive. For others it is a time for long distance traveling to be with family. Give thanks this Thanksgiving by spending time with your loved ones. If your loved ones do not live by you, send them a Thanksgiving Day card, candy, fruit, nuts, you name it. Let your elderly loved ones know that they are being thought of this season.
If your loved ones live near you, have them over for dinner. Below, you will find ideas on what you and your loved ones can do together, before and during, Thanksgiving. Always remember not to pressure your loved one. If your loved one does not want to help, then try again later. The same goes if they want to assist you- even if you don’t need help, try to make something up for them to do.
Go shopping together!
Getting out of the house is healthy, especially for those who spend much of their time in the house. If your loved one can only go out for a short while, then spend the time buying smaller items, such as napkins, decorations, or deserts. For those who are able to walk longer, you can do your Thanksgiving shopping together.
Enjoy the Planning Process
You and your loved can sit down over tea or coffee and discuss what you will have for dinner, what music should be played, what hors d’oeuvres will be put out. This will help loved ones to feel like they are contributing to the family.
Do the Crafts Together
If you enjoy making your own thanksgiving decorations, include your loved one, especially if he/she had a hobby in the past, such as flower arrangement or knitting. If your loved one has a dementing illness, you can purchase child craft books as the crafts are easier. I have seen them just for holidays. This way, you can enjoy making your crafts, while your loved one enjoys what they are doing. If you do not have time to make crafts, your loved one can still enjoy the many benefits out of his craft-making while you plan the Thanksgiving dinner and by getting it all ready.
Prepare the Meal Together
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or any other dementing illness, he or she can still help in the kitchen. Stirring batters, pouring in chocolate chips to the cookie dough, and placing little candies on cakes and other goodies are helpful ways of including your loved ones. If your elderly loved one is capable of baking by herself, you can do one thing, while she does another. Allow your loved one to do as much as he/she can. Your loved one can pour veggies out of the can into a pot or place serving spoons in the proper dishes. Be creative, as you know what your loved ones are capable of doing. The key is to allow our loved ones to do as much as she can and assist if needed.
During the family get-together, include your loved ones in the conversation. This is a time for everyone to enjoy themselves and to catch up with the family. Listen to music, play games, read poems, or do whatever your family enjoys most. Most importantly, have fun!!!
Sharing Memories of Past Thanksgiving Days
Sharing memories of Thanksgiving in the past can be a great way to remember in a group or one-on-one session. Even those who wish to listen or may not remember their own family traditions may enjoy the reminiscing of others as they share favorite memories of Thanksgiving.
Props for a Thanksgiving Reminiscing Program
Even people with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, may still have memories of special holidays and may relish speaking of those times they can remember. Sometimes props may help to get the memories started. Examples of some props that might be used for reminiscing about Thanksgiving include:
- table set with traditional Thanksgiving meal
- picture of old wood burning stove
- favorite Thanksgiving recipes (making a recipe book of the participants’ favorite recipes a few weeks before the program can be a nice touch)
- horn of plenty or cornucopia
- variety of fresh produce such as squash, apples, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberries
- pictures of turkeys, hogs, or chickens
- pictures of community meals
- favorite blessings or grace said before meals (collecting ones remembered by participants and their families ahead of time can be added to the recipe book)
- area set up to resemble a children’s Thanksgiving play with a bed sheet as a backdrop
- Native American dress and accessories or pictures of Native American scenes
- pilgrim dress and accessories or pictures of first Thanksgiving
- old school books with a first Thanksgiving history lesson
- autumn leaves, acorns, hay bales, wood pile, etc.
- sports equipment like a football, bat or large stick, horseshoes, playing cards, etc.
- hunting equipment
- balloons with a Thanksgiving theme or pictures of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade
Sample Questions for a Thanksgiving Reminiscing Program
Many seniors have wonderful memories of family gatherings, turkey or ham dinners with all the fixings, community Thanksgiving meals, school Thanksgiving plays, wishbone wishes, and backyard games of football and other sports. Sometimes simply mentioning Thanksgiving and providing props will be all that is necessary to generate a wealth of conversation as people begin to speak of favorite Thanksgiving traditions of the past. If people in the group seem a bit shy to begin or the memories begin to slow, here are a few sample questions that might spark other memories:
- How did your family celebrate Thanksgiving?
- What foods do you associate with Thanksgiving?
- Did anyone in your family have a specialty dish?
- Have any of you celebrated Thanksgiving in unusual places (many may have celebrated holidays overseas while in the military, for example)?
- Did your family have any Thanksgiving mishaps?
- How did the community celebrate Thanksgiving?
- How did the school teach about Thanksgiving?
- How did the church celebrate Thanksgiving?
- What sports do you associate with Thanksgiving?
- Did you have the opportunity to watch any parades on Thanksgiving?
- How was gathering and preparing food different from today?
Reminiscing About Thanksgiving
Enjoying memories of Thanksgiving may provide a wonderful forum in which folks can gather and share times of the past. Creating a recipe book and recording memories (per facility policy) may be treasured by family members as they preserve a piece of their heritage. Many people have vivid memories of holidays like Thanksgiving, and some may be quite surprising and even humorous while others can give insight on how times and traditions have changed over the years.
Find Non Traditional Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving day tends to be a day when most businesses and restaurants in the United States are closed, so trying to ignore Thanksgiving is almost impossible. How can those who have no family nearby create a Thanksgiving holiday that has meaning for them?
Here are some suggestions to make Thanksgiving enjoyable and memorable for those who find themselves without the traditional family gathering:
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen to help prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner to others.
- Check with hospitals in the area to see if there are volunteer opportunities to visit with patients on that day.
- Arrange to have Thanksgiving dinner at an assisted living facility or nursing home with those who don’t have family nearby.
- Check with local Meals-on-Wheels and see if there is a need for additional help for the holiday.
- Check with your church, synagogue or mosque to see if there are others also separated from family and enroll folks to join in a Thanksgiving dinner to share.
Non-Traditional Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving
- See if there are others in the neighborhood who are also without a family gathering and invite them to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner.
- Plan a progressive dinner ending at a house with a large flat screen TV for the guys to watch football.
- Plan a day of skiing if living in an area of the country the has snow in November and invite friends to join in. Rent a cabin to prepare a Thanksgiving meal.
- Prepare a turkey the day before, and spend Thanksgiving outdoors hiking or walking the beach, and pack a picnic lunch of leftover turkey sandwiches or turkey salad.
- If living close to Canada or Mexico…cross over the border and spend the day in a country that will not be celebrating Thanksgiving on that day.
With some tradition and non traditional ways of celebrating, thanksgiving day can be full of fun.