Foundation of America

6 Steps to Make Thanksgiving Dementia Friendly

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Offers Information for Families Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

(November 16, 2023)—  With families and friends nationwide preparing for Thanksgiving, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering 6 steps to create a dementia-friendly Thanksgiving for the more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia-related illness.

“We want individuals living with dementia to experience the joy and togetherness that comes with Thanksgiving, which is why it’s important for family caregivers to be proactive and sensitive to their loved ones’ needs,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, SIFI, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “A few small adaptations can make a big difference in enabling someone with dementia to participate in, and enjoy, Thanksgiving celebrations.”

AFA offers the following 6 steps to help make a Thanksgiving celebration dementia-friendly:

  • Factor the person’s routine into scheduling the celebration. Changes in daily routine can be challenging for someone living with dementia, so to the greatest extent possible, plan the celebration around their routine. Consider holding celebrations earlier in the day to minimize the potential impact of “sundowning” – a common syndrome that can cause agitation and confusion in the late afternoon-early evening as the sun sets.
  • Plan for help. Relatives and friends are often eager to assist but may not know how. Give them specific tasks that they can help with, such as asking them to bring a dish, help with cooking, shopping, or decorating, or spending time with your loved one while you are preparing for the celebration.
  • Prepare your loved one. Try to familiarize them with the guests beforehand by showing photos, sharing stories, or arranging a phone or Facetime chat prior to the celebration. You could also make an invitation to the event to share with your loved one so they know the details and that it will be happening.
  • Prepare your guests. Consider sharing beneficial information with guests about your loved one—such as ways to communicate with the person, what they respond well to, and what may cause distress—especially if they have not seen the person recently. This will help facilitate positive interactions and engagement.
  • Keep your loved one involved.  Make adaptations that enable your loved one to participate in the celebration by focusing on what they can do, rather than what they cannot. Invite them to help by preparing ingredients for a simple dish, setting the table, decorating, and other activities. Playing familiar music or going through old photos are forms of reminiscence that can bring joy and foster positivity during the celebration. Singing familiar songs, arts and crafts, and having a snack together are great intergenerational activities that kids can participate in as well.
  • Have a quiet space available. Prepare a quiet place away from the crowd where the person with dementia can go if the celebration becomes too much for them. Have familiar comfort items available (i.e., favorite blanket, sweater, stuffed animal) that will help them feel safe and comfortable. Try to control the flow of visitors when possible; those in the early stages are better able to interact than those in later stages.

Families who have questions about creating a dementia-friendly Thanksgiving celebration or any other question relating to dementia or caregiving can contact the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Helpline, seven days a week, by phone (866-232-8484), text message (646-586-5283), or web chat (