PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Thanksgiving brings families together and that can be challenging when some are elderly or struggling with dementia. Experts say there are some ways to make sure that’s not awkward or difficult.
It’s all about keeping Thanksgiving festive while understanding and accepting that people change as they age and might need special considerations.
Patty Hartnett still remembers going to Harvard Law School.
“I thought that I’d like it and I did,” Hartnett said.
But, today, the 77-year-old grandmother is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her daughter, Rebecca Fabricant, says the disease has made the holidays more challenging but still special.
“My mom can still enjoy the moment and I enjoy the moment with her,” Fabricant said.
Experts say families with elderly members or those struggling with Alzheimer’s should do some extra planning to help better navigate the holidays.
“Yes, changes are taking place but the person with Alzheimer’s is still very much a person and needs to be engaged,” said Eve Vaval, care and support program manager at Alzheimer’s Association.
Experts say to get the person involved in the celebration with tasks they can manage, like packing cookies.
Also, prepare the other guests in advance. Let them know what to expect, and consider new traditions like moving a holiday meal earlier in the day.
Planning ahead is also recommended — maybe arrange for a quiet room for the person to escape the noise and distractions.
And there are often special considerations for traveling.
“It has to be a direct flight, nonstop, to make the traveling easy,” Fabricant said.
Hartnett still loves singing carols but since reading music is harder now, the tradition has changed.
“My mom and dad are in a wonderful chorus called The Unforgettables, and it’s for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Fabricant said.
Alzheimer’s has changed the holidays but for this family, there’s still room for joy.
For Thanksgiving, doctors say playing familiar music can be very comforting and calming for people with cognitive issues.
It’s probably best to keep them out of the kitchen and away from potential mishaps.