In the USA this week, Thursday is the big day of excessive eating, excessive television viewing (especially of football), excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive noise, excessive bickering, excessive arguing, excessive chaos, and excessive assorted silliness.
It’s Turkey Time named for our almost national bird (Ben Franklin thought that this would be a fine choice; of course this may also be an urban myth) and the way people act at a big family event especially after the alcohol is introduced.
Thanksgiving Day — a day the USA celebrates its harvest festival by having a traditional dinner of turkey and stuffing and lots of greasy vegetables and sweet potatoes and pie. All in honor of the Thanksgiving Dinner the Pilgrims of Massachusetts had in 1620 (or was it 1621 or 1622?) when they were not too busy dying of the diseases they encountered in the New World.
Well OK, except for the facts that the Pilgrims were not eating turkey at time, they had arrived in Massachusetts after the berry and grain harvest, and were living from fishing and stealing corn from the meadows on Cape Cod that the Native Americans had planted. The area where they landed also had rich shell fish fields. Oh, and there was that little matter of the ongoing war between the original inhabitants and the first of the English wave that came to steal their real estate. And yes, while much has been made of the fact that the Pilgrims reportedly came to America to escape religious intolerance, they did not refrain from attempting forced religious conversions of the native peoples.
Now that we have had the history lesson, back to the national holiday as portrayed by television and Hollywood …
Every wonder what it is like for the person living with dementia at the big family holidays? Is it a great day when they can meet with all of their relatives they cannot remember and relive all the great moments they cannot remember and get bombarded by far too much stimulation and be scared because they do not know what is coming next and nobody wants to ruin the surprise by telling them and they rapidly become overtired and overstressed. Like being on a rollercoaster or trying to find your keys or reading a huge run on sentence.
Want to make a great time at the holidays for the person with dementia and the family members who would like to see her-him? Make the part of the party the person with dementia experiences small and quiet and restful and non-stressful and for goodness sakes do not fill them with alcohol or expose him-her to the relatives who have been having too much of a good time at the free bar. And don’t push a lot of their “favorite” foods on them because food preferences change a lot during dementia as does what is safe to eat (possible choking, medication interactions).
A couple of mind maps on the issues. Click on the images to expand them. And yes, the issues are many I have personally faced at the usual big family gatherings and especially (in my case) at large professional gatherings and receptions that I sometimes attend with my family.
And yes, naps are a huge help. Virtually every time. And please don’t wake me up for the big touchdown when I have drifted off while watching the inevitable television.
Enjoy Thanksgiving, religious celebrations, weddings, graduations, housewarming parties, National Holidays, birthdays, awards celebration and all of the other times when groups of family and friends get together. These can be complicated days for a person with dementia but also highly rewarding days for the PWD and other participants. It just takes a little planning and a little tolerance for “changed” behavior. And a lot of love.