With the holidays right around the corner, many older adults and their loved ones are anxiously awaiting Thanksgiving. But even though the holiday is a joyous time for gathering with family and enjoying a meal, it can be overwhelming for some.
Many seniors deal with physical limitations, dietary restrictions, emotional health issues, and more that can make holidays difficult. Some are facing their first Thanksgiving without their spouse. Others don’t have family nearby and will be spending the holiday alone.
If you’re a family member or caregiver for an older adult, a little advance planning can help make all the difference. Here are some tips for making Thanksgiving a stress-free, special day for the seniors in your life:
Get Their Input
Many younger adults feel like taking on the holiday meal planning takes the stress off older adults, finally giving them a chance to “rest.” Unfortunately, a complete lack of input can actually make your older loved one feel left out and ignored. Regardless of their current health status, help your older adult feel involved by asking for suggestions on menu, décor, guest list, or anything else they may be able to help with.
Make Travel Arrangements
If your older loved one is travelling from a long distance to get to your house, consider enlisting some volunteers to bring them along. Many older adults are no longer comfortable driving, especially at night. Keep in mind that they may need trunk space for a wheelchair or walker, and items such as a lumbar support cushion or travel pillow may be appreciated. (Note: If they’re coming from an especially long distance, plan for a few bathroom breaks!)
Remove Safety Hazards
If you’ll have an older adult visiting your home for the holiday, keep in mind that many seniors have physical limitations. Before their arrival, remove any hazards (such as loose cords or area rugs) that could lead to trips and falls and make sure the bathroom is easily accessible. Also consider seating your loved one at the end of the table, so they can easily et up and move around if necessary.
Offer Appropriate Meal Options
Just like you wouldn’t invite over your vegan friends and only offer turkey, you shouldn’t invite seniors without considering their dietary needs. Most older adults have limitations to what they can and cannot eat – for instance, many seniors are on a low-sodium diet and should be offered an appropriate option. In addition, older taste buds can make certain foods intolerable, and dentures can make it difficult to chew things like meat and especially crunchy vegetables.
Note: Many older adults get tired earlier in the evening than their younger compatriots and a nighttime meal can be exhausting. It can be especially tough for those who suffer from dementia, as they often become more confused and agitated in the evening hours. If you’re hosting an elderly guest this Thanksgiving, consider having lunch instead of dinner!
Help Them Feel Included
Large holiday meals often find several generations all seated around the same table. It’s easy for any one person – especially if they’re quiet – to get lost in the shuffle. Make sure that doesn’t happen to your older loved one by making it a point to include them in conversation and activities. One idea I love: During the meal, try to bridge generation gaps by asking everyone to share something, like their proudest moment of the year, or the thing they are most thankful for.
Holidays and other events that change the daily routine can be quite stressful and tiring for the elderly. Providing your older loved one with the support they need can help make the day more enjoyable for everyone.
One option? Consider hiring a caregiver to help out just for the day. They can make sure your older loved one has everything they need, while also allowing you the time to tend to dinner, socialize with other guests, and keep the party moving along!