Under the best of circumstances, it’s hard to live up to holiday expectations of unswerving, picture-perfect traditions and family bliss. Sisters feud about hosting. Uncle Pete has too much wine. Nephew Max wants to talk about the election.
There can be tension long before you add one of the saddest stressors to multi-generational festivities: dementia. But, if there was ever a prod to get real about what you expect from Thanksgiving — and what the holiday is really about — this is it.
We spoke with some experts — Denise Brown, founder of Caregiving.com; Ruth Drew, director of information and support services for the Alzheimer’s Association; Felicia Greenfield, a social worker who is executive director of the Penn Memory Center, and Jill and Elizabeth Egan, New Jersey sisters in their 20s whose father and grandmother have Alzheimer’s disease — about how to arrange holiday celebrations so that everybody, including people with dementia and their caregivers, can have a good time.
“It really comes down to the time spent together and the connection between people who care about each other,” said Drew. Families may need to reevaluate their traditions every year. “It doesn’t have to be at a specific place. It doesn’t have to be a specific menu. It doesn’t even have to be a specific day.”
Worries about an older relative’s health may increase the desire for a perfect holiday. “The concern is that this might be the last holiday and that’s where the pressure comes from,” Brown said. “It’s important to be realistic and it’s important to know that the most memorable holidays are the ones where you’re able to share quality moments with each other.”
Keep in mind that it’s the healthy people in the room who need to make adjustments. The person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia has a damaged brain. “They are doing the best they can with the brain they have,” Drew said. “We’re the ones with the healthy brain. We’re the ones who can be flexible and be accommodating.”