Talking Turkey: Celebrating Thanksgiving with Dementia

By Joshua J. Freitas & Team at CERTUS Premier Memory Care Living

Breaking bread with loved ones is a special time to make memories together and sitting down for Thanksgiving can be one of the most memorable meals of the year. If you have a loved one who is living with dementia, you may be concerned about shifts in the family dynamic. Caregivers often experience tension, anxiety, and stress not only leading up to the gathering but during the event, but it does not have to be that way. With a bit of preparation and advanced planning, your Thanksgiving celebration can be enjoyable for all family members.

Suggestions to prepare for a successful Thanksgiving:

  • Create purpose. Our philosophy is that meaning + purpose = success. Living with dementia may limit your loved one’s abilities, but there are always ways to help them find a purpose. Try to find an activity that is aligned with your loved one’s skill level. For example, assisting with food preparation such as washing or peeling vegetables, setting the table, or even folding napkins.
  • Be transparent. Prepare family and friends for the event by sharing your loved one’s diagnosis and challenges. Share limitations and educate them on how they can better communicate and be inclusive in conversations.
  • Maintain routine. Keeping up with routines is paramount to the success of anyone living with dementia. Try to keep the daily schedule as close to normal as possible and be sure there is time to rest.
  • Dine earlier. Research suggests that older adults should eat their largest meal in the middle of the day to aid in digestion. As many people living with dementia experience sundowning, or confusion in the late afternoon into the night, a lunch time dining experience will lessen the impact of behaviors or confusion.
  • Be open to help. Caregiving is a tremendous job, and no one knows your loved one better than you. Ask others for help, especially in advance of the Thanksgiving meal, such as shopping or cooking. If you are the event host, you may even ask another family member to keep an eye on your loved one to reduce your own stress and anxiety.
  • Reminisce. While your loved one may not remember what they ate for lunch yesterday, they likely have recall on past events or memories. Encourage family members to reminisce as it encourages a sense of competence and confidence through using an ability they still have.
  • Designate a quiet zone. If possible, look for a quiet area where your loved one can escape the hustle and bustle of the festivities for a break or even a short nap, so they are able to more successfully enjoy the full event.
  • Relax. Telling someone to relax is often easier said than done. While relaxing during Thanksgiving may not be possible, be sure to plan some time afterward so that you can de-stress. If you are the primary caregiver for your loved one, consider scheduling some time apart whether it is a day or even a respite stay. Tending to your own physical, emotional, and mental health is critical to continuing to provide excellent care for your loved one.

If your loved one is already living at CERTUS Premier Memory Care Living or another memory care community, we encourage you to bring Thanksgiving to them. As we mentioned earlier, people living with dementia thrive on routine so whenever possible, look for ways to avoid disrupting routines while still sharing in the holiday spirit. Our Chefs prepare a full Thanksgiving menu for the holiday and invite you to stop by to visit with your loved ones. For more tips or a personalized geriatric life coaching session, please reach out to us at [email protected].


Joshua Freitas, Vice President of Program Development at CERTUS Premier Memory Care Living, is an award-winning memory care program developer, researcher, and author.  He holds five certifications related to dementia care and has studied at some of the world’s most renowned colleges and universities, including Lesley University, Harvard University, and Berklee College of Music. Mr. Freitas is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Clinical Gerontology and Aging Neuroscience.

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