Over the years we have learned so much from observing Seniors around us — those whom we meet in senior centers, those whom we serve or visit with, those whom we run into at the grocery store, our neighborhood, and those within our own families. One thing that really stands out is that most of them are selfless. They do not want anything from us, except for our company and a little chat.
Keeping that in mind, especially the fact that they really do not want to be a burden upon their loved ones, they often isolate themselves and decline offers of spending holidays with their friends and family. Let us assure you that however opposed to your Thanksgiving dinner invitation they may be, deep inside, they do want to be around their loved ones. They do not want to be the center of attention. They would love to sit and watch their family and friends get together, catch up on the latest updates, watch their children care for their children, listen to their grandchildren’s laughter. Deep inside, every parent’s most sacred desire is to see their offspring enjoying life, being giving, loving and caring individuals. Seeing that will give every parent peace of mind and a moment of pride.
Many Seniors, feeling unwanted, isolate themselves or many suffer from an anxiety disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and may be more susceptible to considerable mood swings during Thanksgiving. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people diagnosed with mental illness report that the holidays make their conditions worse.
Contrary to what they may say, the last thing they want is to be left alone. Mom and Dad want to be a part of your Thanksgiving dinner, and they look forward to it. If they remain stubborn, tell them that you need them, that you need a little bit of their assistance. They do not want to be a burden, but they are always willing to help. The “I need your help” argument will most likely work, and they will start packing.
Ask Mom to Travel Ahead of the Traffic
Avoiding traffic is the key. The 2015 AAA Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast estimates that this year there will be almost 42 Million travelers on the road.
If Mom and Dad live within driving distance, but are unable to drive on their own, make arrangements and ask a Caregiver to drive. Ask them to leave their Home in the morning, ahead of time, to avoid traffic and to get to your Home early enough to help you with holiday preparations.
Engage Mom in Meal and Table Preparations
Depending on Mom’s general health, she may not be able to handle sharp, oversized knives, or dragging the 20-pound turkey in and out of the scorching hot oven, but there are plenty of things she can do. She can prepare and mix the salad. She can mash the potatoes. She can help to set the table.
For anyone dealing with raw meat, to prevent food-borne diseases, it’s important to wash hands, utensils and work surfaces thoroughly, and make sure they do not touch other foods before being washed. The Elderly and children, because their immune systems are weaker, must be especially cautious being around raw meat.
Even if you do not need the extra help, it is a great idea to engage your Mom in the less-challenging cooking preparations or table setting. Being able to help will make her feel that she really is not a burden, but is needed. Feeling needed will make her day.
Create a Safe and Cozy Environment
Safety is always the #1 priority. Look for anything that may become hazard for your aging loved ones in, around, and outside the house. Wet leaves or snow on the porch, clutter in walkways, sliding carpets, loose rugs, slippery mats, sharp edges, glass tables, delicate floor vases, candles near curtains — those are all hazards. If your pets are frisky and very active, it may be best to keep them away from Mom, Dad, and others who may have slight difficulties with mobility and balance.
With all the cooking going on, which warms the house considerably, some guests will feel like opening windows, which will create draft. November air is very chilly. The Elderly are especially sensitive to drafts and cold air. We have to make certain that they will not be in the midst of the draft, and that they are dressed warmly. It may be a good idea to keep a scarf or blanket handy.
Mom and Dad may want to visit the restroom more often than the younger guests. If possible, try to sit your Elderly guests at the head, end, or corner of the table — especially if they use a walker or a wheelchair. Sitting them in the middle of the table will force everyone around them to get up and move, which will, in turn, make the Elderly feel like they are a burden upon the others.
Even though parents may not want to be the center of attention, you may keep them engaged in a conversation. Ask your Mom or Dad to share their favorite life stories and lessons they have learned along the way. They especially love chatting with their grandchildren. Regardless of the choice of entertainment — conversation, music, movie or a board game — our observation is that our Elders simply want to be around and be a part of this special day.
Keep a close eye on Mom. At some point, she may need some quiet time and a place to relax. If she suffers from dementia, she may have her routine that should be observed. When her usual sleeping time comes, you can take her to a separate room, so she can go to sleep like she is used to in her own Home.
On this special day, let us be especially thankful for our aging loved ones.
They are our greatest gift.
Life is short — let us enjoy it together.