5 Tips for Keeping the Thanksgiving Holiday Stress free for Seniors

Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday for many of us, but for those who gather with frail, older relatives, it can also be a time of stress. Our older family members especially those with hearing, cognitive or physical impairments don’t always handle the holiday bustle as well as others. They can easily be overstimulated or disorientated by the sudden change of environment or uptick in pace around them. So, how can we include our older loved ones in this meaningful family celebration and do our best to ensure that it is an enjoyable, engaging and relaxing one for them and all their younger extended family members? As you gather this year, here are 5 tips to keep your Thanksgiving Holiday stress free for your entire family:

Keep the event short

Host your gathering close by your older loved one’s home.Traveling long distances is stressful for seniors, so anything you can do to shorten the ride helps. Avoid multiple holiday destinations and plan on just one venue for celebrating. Even hosting the gathering in your older loved one’s home and bringing in all the goodies, almost table ready can help alleviate stress. To reduce overstimulation and exhaustion, limit the gathering time for them. Have someone bring your elder loved one to the gathering a little later and bring them home early. If the gathering is being hosted at their home, provide an opportunity for them to take time away and rest or nap in a quiet, calm environment after the meal and end the celebration in a timely fashion. 

Keep the atmosphere positive

Thanksgiving is often an emotional time when family dynamics can escalate. Being mindful of not overindulging in alcohol and setting the expectations of “agreeing to disagree”, being respectful and open to everyone’s opinions in a welcoming atmosphere around the table ahead of time is key. 

Keep the gathering simple and safe

Too much choice can lead to confusion and stress for seniors. Having table seating prearranged with older loved ones seated near those who are patient, calm and communicate well helps. Serve elders first with smaller portions and food choices that are appealing and with consistencies that are easy to swallow. Keep pathways clear to reduce falls risks. Be mindful of older adults’ medication schedules. 

Keep the gathering inclusive

Keep the joy in Thanksgiving by making your elder loved one feel included and special. Ask for their advice on the menu. Engage them in simple and joyful preparations that match their abilities, such as helping assemble a simple item like a salad or a bake free dessert. Consider seating your elder loved one at the head of the table – this denotes honor and respect and ensures safety by enabling them to get up and back to the table at their own pace. Provide some calm one-on-one interactions with a family member celebrating being together such as reminiscing over a beloved photo album. 

Create a Thanksgiving memory

Make a Gratitude Tree together as a family which can serve as a centerpiece for the table. It can also be given to your older love one to take with them as a memento of your happy event:

  • Place a tree branch in a vase
  • Make a leaf template to write a simple message on
  • Use the template to cut the leaves form different colored construction paper and punch a small hole in each leaf
  • Write something you are grateful for on each leave
  • Put a ribbon or string through the leaf and hang on the branch 

Have a Happy and Joyful Thanksgiving!