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Thanksgiving & Aging Parents: What To Do For Their Well-Being

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It’s that time of the year when the leaves turn golden, and we embrace festivities with cheer and togetherness. It is also a time of gratitude with a thanksgiving message to parents and loved ones. Thanksgiving brings with it family parties, meeting and greeting relatives, and a house filled with buzzing activity. Although the joy is palpable, it can get overwhelming for seniors. Here’s how you can deal with this bittersweet situation. 

How to Help Older Adults with Some Common Issues They Might Face at Thanksgiving

With age, older adults, especially those aging in place independently, might find the sudden activity and family gatherings overwhelming. Whether it is the noise of guests, or a disruption of their daily routine, or even memories of loved ones who have passed on, seniors often struggle during Thanksgiving. Let’s look at some of the challenges you might face and how to deal with them to make it a happy Thanksgiving for your parents.

Thanksgiving dinner with parents

Challenge: Traditions remind your loved ones about painful events from the past

What you can do:

Often festivals can remind the elderly of painful events from the past, such as the death of a spouse and the passing away of close friends and family members. Sometimes, they may lament about their failing health and changes in their surroundings too. At such times, remember that they do not expect you to find the solutions to their problems. All they want is for you to be there for them. Therefore, listen patiently, even if what they are saying is sad.

Challenge: An all-day family celebration is too much

What you can do:

Gratitude and thanksgiving to parents is the best part of the holiday as we plan a day-long family celebration. However, for many seniors, an all-day event may seem overwhelming or tiring. Be understanding and lower your expectations from your older loved ones. You could involve them in a smaller get-together or even visit them for a short while rather than inviting them over. The idea is to make Thanksgiving peaceful and meaningful for everyone.

Challenge: The crowd and activity overwhelm your aging loved one.

What you can do:

The sudden buzz of activity and the crowd of family members can be a bit too much for many seniors, especially those struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s. At such times, you could find a comfortable place for the elderly away from the noise. This is a good idea because they can now engage in a one-on-one conversation with the guests. Check with them periodically to make sure they are okay. 

Older parents well being on Thanksgiving

Challenge: Your loved one feels unneeded.

What you can do:

As they age, seniors’ abilities to carry out specific tasks may suffer. Amid all the activity and preparation, they may feel unneeded. Handle their sensitivity with compassion. Ask them what they are comfortable doing and let them carry out small tasks. This way, they can feel involved in a meaningful way. Bring the older and younger generation together with tasks like decorations or prepping a meal if there are young children.

Challenge: Your parents struggle to hear in a noisy room. 

What you can do:

Your parents may struggle to catch a conversation in a crowded room of talkers. At such times, you can take your loved one to a separate room and ask family members to visit them individually. One-on-one conversations are easy to track and respond to for seniors. Just remember to check on them from time to time to make sure they aren’t feeling left out.

Challenge: Your relatives can’t see well. 

What you can do:

To help seniors who can’t see well, make sure the rooms are well-lit. Ask your guests to provide verbal cues when they approach seniors to talk to them. That way, they know who they are talking to even if they can’t see well. You could also ask someone to sit with the elderly and narrate what they can’t see. Make sure they have their mobility aids within reach. 

Challenge: Your aging parents are forgetful or repeat themselves.

What you can do:

It’s just age-catching up. You will probably find yourself doing the same at their age. Thanksgiving to parents is about remembering their past, and often they may repeat their stories. Forgetfulness is common too. Just be patient and remind guests that they might hear the same stories again and again! 

Challenge: Your relative gets tired quickly.

What you can do:

If you find your loved one getting tired, make sure you plan for a restful nap for them before dinner. Try to keep your day on schedule so that they don’t have to overexert themselves by staying up late. Also, look out for overstimulation that could tire them out quickly.

Parents cold on thanksgiving

Challenge: Your loved one is always cold.

What you can do:

Old bones tend to feel cold and appreciate a warm and cozy place. Strategically seat elders in places that are warmer. You could also keep a sweater or blanket handy. 

Challenge: Your aging senior is prone to falls.

What you can do:

Falls are a cause for worry, and one must avoid hazards that can lead to falls. If you host a Thanksgiving party, be sure to tuck rugs, stow away loose wires, and keep the space as clutter-free as possible. Keeping the room well-lit and daily living aids handy is another way to minimize falls. 

Challenge: Your parents become restless.

What you can do:

Do not underestimate the problem of sundowning on aging seniors. Those with dementia and Alzheimer’s tend to feel confused in the evening, and it may leave them agitated. Please be patient with them. Overstimulation and disruption of routine can also cause them to feel restless and disturbed. Try to move them to a quiet part of the house to help them calm down. 

Challenge: You’re worried about your senior loved one driving to the party.

What you can do:

Thanksgiving leads to lots of traffic on the road. It is natural to worry about your parents driving to the get-together. You could offer to drive them or arrange for transportation. That way, everyone can enjoy the day without the stress of being on the road.

Ways To Celebrate Thanksgiving with Your Elderly Loved Ones

If you have elderly members in your family, you may have to modify your Thanksgiving tradition a little to accommodate their needs. All it takes is a little patience and these tips that can make it easier for you to make a happy thanksgiving for parents. 

Thanksgiving dinner with family
  1. Include loved ones and do not leave them alone. Social isolation is a leading cause of depression among older adults. If you cannot invite or visit them, make sure you have some other family members or friends who can invite or visit them to make them feel included in the festivities. A simple card saying Happy Thanksgiving to parents can make their day! 
  2. COVID-19 safety is still relevant and important, especially for seniors. Do take all precautions and keep seniors safe from others if they seem unwell. You could also space out or stagger the dining arrangement so that there is enough social distancing. 
  3. Offer help in running errands and shopping for your aging loved ones. Due to physical limitations, they may not do all the holiday activities like they used to. By helping them shop for gifts or plan activities, you show that you care and ease their burden. 
  4. Watch their diet during the holiday season. With all the cooking and feasting, it is easy to overlook their health issues. Make sure they stick to their dietary habits allowing indulgence in moderation. Some seniors may need special food, so plan your meals accordingly. 
  5. Give a meaningful gift for Thanksgiving to parents, especially if they are aging in place.  With age, they may need a bedside step stool to assist with several things like getting in and out of bed. Installing mobility and safety aids in the bathroom, kitchen, and other areas of the house will help them feel independent. A meaningful gift can bring joy and improve the quality of their life.
Happy Thanksgiving

Final Thoughts 

Thanksgiving is a beautiful occasion to express gratitude to your loved ones. Remember to make it unique by including the elderly and spending time with them. The holiday season may add a little stress, but you may want to take it easy with a senior. Express your gratitude with a meaningful gift and spend time with them to make this Thanksgiving memorable for everyone.


Vince Baiera

Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.

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