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5 Tips On How To Include A Family Member With Memory Issues At Thanksgiving

November 24, 2014

3 Min Read
5 Tips On How To Include A Family Member With Memory Issues At Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and if your family is like mine, you likely have the day set aside for spending time with loved ones. We’ll start by watching the parade on television, and then gather around the table for a sumptuous meal, followed by watching some football, and scouring the Black Friday ads.

Chances are, if you have multiple generations joining the Thanksgiving party, the eldest generation might be dealing with age-related health issues. For loved ones suffering from dementia, the holidays can be particularly challenging as the big crowd can seem overwhelming to them.

Although this isn’t directly related to the beef industry, I think many ranching families can relate to this issue. The average age of the American rancher is 58 years, which means the operator’s parents might still be actively involved in the ranch, or may be retired but retaining some involvement. In other scenarios, the eldest generation may be in a nursing home or needing assistance, which can offer a variety of challenges for a busy ranching family. Particularly when loved ones are dealing with dementia or suffering from Alzheimer’s, family get-togethers can bring additional challenges.


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There are ways to lessen the stress of these situations during the holidays. Kerry Mills, MPA, a well-known dementia coach and author of “I Care – A Handbook for Care Partners of People with Dementia,” offers these best-care practices, using "grandma" as an example.

1. Do not get frustrated.

“Grandma simply doesn’t have access to certain details, but she is still a conscious and feeling person who has plenty to offer,” says Mills. “If you get frustrated, she’ll pick up on it.”

2. Dedicate someone to Grandma during the gathering.

“Of course, loving families will want to include Grandma in the group, but be careful not to overwhelm her with attention,” advises Mills. “Her brain, which has trouble processing some information, could use assistance – a liaison to help her process things. Grandpa could probably use a break; her son or daughter may be the best handler during a gathering.”

3. Give Grandma purpose; give her a task in the kitchen.

“Keep Grandma, who may’ve been prolific in the kitchen in the past, engaged! Simple tasks, such as mashing potatoes or stirring gravy, may be best. Engage her in conversation about the food,” says Mills.

4. Use visual imagery and do not ask yes-or-no questions.

“Again, asking someone with Alzheimer’s to remember a specific incident 23 years ago can be like asking someone confined to a wheelchair to run a 40-yard dash – it’s physically impossible,” explains Mills. “Don’t pigeonhole her. Direct Grandma in conversation; say things to her that may stimulate recollection, but don’t push a memory that may not be there. Pictures are often an excellent tool.”

5. Safety is your biggest priority.

“Whether during a holiday gathering or in general, Grandma may commit herself to activities she shouldn’t be doing, such as driving,” says Mills. “She’s been driving for decades, and then she develops a memory problem, which not only prevents her from remembering her condition, but also how to drive safely. This major safety concern applies to any potentially dangerous aspect to life.”

Do you have a family member who is struggling with dementia? What tips do you have for keeping them involved and engaged without pushing them to recall things beyond their reach? Share your advice in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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