Thinking About Thanking Before Thanksgiving

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

To keep things simple here, let’s call “your loved one with dementia” Frances. Frances may be your husband or wife, your mother or father, your sibling or friend. We always refer to her as “she.”

You may find yourself (or Frances’ caregivers or friends) treating Frances as if she is no longer herself. And in some ways, she is not “the Frances you knew and loved.” But she is indeed still Frances. And Thanksgiving- the season of gratitude- is a great opportunity to express your own gratitude to Frances for being who she is- and to help Frances feel grateful. Everyone loves to feel appreciated. And if Frances enjoys being creative, Thanksgiving offers several crafty opportunities for new holiday traditions. You can make your activities as simple or as elaborate as you think Frances will enjoy.

1- Decorate for the holiday, whether at home or in a care community. Solicit Frances’ input and, if she is mobile, take her shopping. This is the season for colorful, long-lasting produce: gourds, pumpkins, persimmons, pomegranates and nuts. Add some fresh or dried greenery, and you have a lovely, mostly edible arrangement.

2-Send Thanksgiving cards. If Frances is still living at home, perhaps she would enjoy walking around the neighborhood with you to hand deliver cards. You can make arrangements in advance with neighbors, without Frances’ involvement, to set this activity up for social success. If Frances lives in a care community, ask her if she’d like to mail cards to family and friends.

3- Help Frances talk about things she is grateful for. If she has a partner, a special friend or caregiver for whose company and friendship she is particularly thankful, ask Frances if she’d like to write a note, or dictate it to you, for that person. A personal note is a gift that the recipient can enjoy again and again.

4- Prepare your own card for Frances, telling her how grateful you are to have her in your life- whether you will see her on Thanksgiving or not. You can mail the card well in advance, either directly to Frances (if she still opens her mail), or to a caregiver or neighbor. If you have a photo from a Thanksgiving celebration from your shared past, include a copy with a little reminiscence that makes Frances feel cherished.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am grateful to everyone who makes my work meaningful and possible. I am thankful for the life lessons and kindnesses I regularly receive from the many Franceses I will visit the week of Thanksgiving.


Dr. Jane

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