Tips for Hosting an Age-friendly Thanksgiving Dinner
Between coordinating travel plans, cooking, cleaning, and throwing a cast of personalities into one room, anxieties can run high around Turkey Day. If you are entertaining a mixed age group this year, respecting the eldest guests should also be high on your list.
How can you host a Thanksgiving dinner that accommodates the unique health and physical needs of elderly relatives and friends? Creating an age-friendly Thanksgiving dinner is simple with some forethought, planning, and communication.
Here are ways to ensure it is a happy holiday meal for young and old alike:
- Be mindful of seating arrangements – If your aging parent or grandparent has physical limitations, seat him or hear at the end of the table, providing ample room to get up easily and more often without disrupting others.
- Review the floor plan – Run through your home’s layout to make sure it is safe and free of any hazards that could cause a fall. Add additional lighting, secure carpets, and reduce any clutter in walkways. If your elderly loved one has a walker, wheelchair, or medical equipment (such as an oxygen tank), ensure that passageways have enough room to accommodate. Going out for dinner? Visit the restaurant beforehand to see if there are many stairs, tight spaces, or other conditions that would make it difficult for your aging relative to navigate safely.
- Ask about dietary requirements – Begin planning your dinner menu in advance by asking your loved one and consulting his or her medical provider for dietary guidelines. For diabetics or persons with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, special diets such as low salt, low sugar, or low fat must be adhered to. If your loved one has suffered a stroke or otherwise has trouble swallowing, consider including a soft food dish in your menu.
- Strike up conversation – Do not make the mistake of making your loved one feel invisible at Thanksgiving dinnertime. Many falsely assume that seniors are cranky and uninterested in chatting. However, the communal, family-feel of Thanksgiving is the perfect time for aging loved ones to share stories and lessons. As host, help encourage intergenerational communication by making children, teens, and older adults comfortable and meaningful, rather than awkward.
- Enlist help – Consider hiring in-home respite care services to support caregiving duties around Thanksgiving crunch-time. This person can provide assistance with personal care, such as feeding, as well as companionship and stimulation. If your aging parent of grandparent has a home health aide, invite the caregiver to share dinner with you. Knowing your loved one has the help they need within range will bring comfort and peace of mind.
- Acknowledge the person’s pace – Persons with dementia become uncomfortable and fearful in situations filled with noise and action. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, find a peaceful place him or her to rest before the event begins to help ease the transition. Keep the volume of music and conversation even and fairly low. If being around many people or at a restaurant is too stressful of physically impossible, improvise! Plan family visits throughout the day to cover all meals shifts – breakfast, lunch, or dinner – or ask small groups of family members to visit with the person on alternate days before or after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Have you hosted an age-friendly Thanksgiving dinner? What tips can you share?