The Original Thanksgiving Guest

The Original Thanksgiving Guest

It’s Thanksgiving again!  Millions of families across the country–and expats all over the world for that matter–are preparing themselves for turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, candied yams, and I won’t even mention the desserts!  Year after year, it’s the same routine that we all know and love and stress over.  That is, of course, until something or someone throws the routine for a loop.  The common cause: an aging loved one, who is perhaps no longer the independent, lucid and physically capable person they’ve always been.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans this year who is more worried about preparing for Nana or Uncle Joe than you are about preparing your pie crust, don’t worry; there is plenty of advice out there to help you.  I’ve sifted through much of it and plucked out what I think are the most helpful tips.

Preparing meals for seniors

There are some things you should know about preparing meals for seniors.  The first thing is that seniors do not metabolize food in the same way that they once did.  And what’s more, their taste buds might not be as sensitive to flavors as in years past.  Don’t be surprised or offended or upset then when your loved one doesn’t attack your casserole like he or she used to.  In fact, you might want to think about preparing something special for your loved one, to cater to his or her changing dietary habits and needs.  Here are some tips taken from http://www.associatedcontent.com/:

  1. Make food that is easy to chew and swallow.  Dentures and reduced saliva production might make tough and dry foods difficult.
  2. Use less salt.  You don’t want to cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure or worsen water retention.  Remember, you can always salt the food on your own plate later.
  3. Add more seasoning.  To make up for the lower salt, aging taste buds and the dulling affect of some prescription medications, use savory, but not spicy, seasonings to provide more flavor.
  4. Use recipes rich with nutrition.  Seniors need to eat food that is high in nutritional content and calories to make up for their often reduced appetites. www.nutritiondata.com is a good source for information on the nutritional and caloric content of food.  Check AARPs recipe site for great Thanksgiving recipes for seniors.

Ask questions.  Take a moment to ask your loved one what they enjoy eating these days.  If they always loved a particular dish, ask them if they still do.  Ask them if there is anything they don’t like.

Keeping an eye out for hints of dementia

If dietary issues are not your concern, memory loss might be.  Early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s are often first detected or otherwise confirmed at holiday family gatherings.  This might be for the simple reason that it is the only time of year the whole family gets together.  It might also be that with distant relatives around, and a disruption to the everyday routines, the conditions are optimal for noticing memory loss.  I found the following great tips on what to look for if dementia or Alzheimer’s is your concern from blog.ourparents.com:

  1. Look in the refrigerator. Is there expired food?
  2. Drive their car.  Check the state of the tires, oil, antifreeze.
  3. Investigate the house.  Check for cleanliness.
  4. Take note of how the pets are doing.
  5. Talk to the neighbors — this can be a bonus if you can ask them to keep an eye out on your aging loved one, even if just from afar.
  6. Identify any marked declines from the previous year, especially in organization, cleanliness, and personal hygiene.

Go to the source.  Sit down with your loved one.  Ask if anything has been bothering them.  Ask if you can help with anything.  Ask them questions about what they have been doing lately.  Ask, ask, ask.  Often hints will come out in what they say or what they can’t remember.  

And this is my own hint to add to that list:  Follow your instincts.  You know your loved one.  You know what their house normally looks like, how they normally speak and act.  If something is really out of place address it with them, but be delicate, as it might cause them fear or anxiety when you point it out.

If you already know that dementia or Alzheimer’s is taking hold in your loved one, here are some tips from http://www.alzhimersreadingroom.com/ that might help you cope:

  1. Stick with the familiar and maintain routines.  Avoid strange and noisy restaurants.
  2. Keep your gathering small, so as not to confuse your loved one with unfamiliar faces.
  3. Focus on the old memories.  Short-term memory is usually the most affected with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Ask them questions about their childhood and younger days.  They just might surprise you with what they remember and you might learn something new about your loved one.  

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!