Being Intentional this Thanksgiving

I am Edie Weinstein, a ninth grader at Visitation School, and an author of a new children’s book about dementia called Grandpa and Lucy.  I wrote this book to educate young people about dementia.  I am a Saint Paul native, and one of my favorite things in the world is spending time with my family. Unfortunately, some people experience conflict within their families, and one of the conflicts many face is an elderly family member’s memory loss or dementia.

 

Dementia can make a once friendly family member seem hostile or frustrated.  People suffering from dementia sometimes forget they have said something.  And sometimes, in the repetition, they may irritate their family members.  Other times, family member with dementia cannot remember who their relative is, bringing about hurt feelings and animosity.

I wrote my new children’s book, Grandpa and Lucy, as a way to reach people of different generations about better understanding dementia.  Sometimes children, teens, young adults, and older family members are embarrassed or uncomfortable with their family communications when a loved one has Alzheimer’s.  There’s no better time than now to practice new ways of reaching out to loved ones this Thanksgiving!

As I think back about past Thanksgivings, these are the things I remember. My grandfather smiled at me from the head of the table as he passed the first plate of turkey my way.  Outside, the snow drifted gently to the ground, one of the first snowfalls of the year.  My aunt lit the candles, my grandmother led the prayer, and we began our Thanksgiving feast.  But more than the sumptuous food and the beautifully decorated table, our Thanksgiving was a time for rich conversation.

If you have a loved one with dementia celebrating Thanksgiving with you this year, there are several things you may wish to consider in advance.  Planning ahead is always beneficial!  You may also want to share these suggestions with your family before the event.  For example, not correcting loved ones with dementia or politely reminding them of your name in your greeting is always helpful (for example, “Hi Grandma! It’s Edie, your granddaughter!  I am so glad to see you!”).  Sometimes family members also worry about offending their loved one or not having things to say. It’s important to remember that there is more to someone than the dementia.  Ask them about an important memory or about what Thanksgiving was like growing up.  They have stories to tell and things to say just like anyone else. They just need to be asked.

Another helpful suggestion is to refrain from quizzing your loved one.  Phrase questions in a way that doesn’t require a right or wrong answer.  Questions such as, “Do you remember when we went to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving?” can be stressful.  Instead, ask open-ended questions such as, “Grandpa, what is your favorite thing about the holidays?”

I believe that dementia and memory loss should never be an obstacle for connecting with your family.  This year at Thanksgiving, reach out to a family member with empathy and warmth.  You may find a new, unique bond to cherish.

By communicating differently, we can honor our loved ones and connect in a new way with someone living with memory loss or dementia.  There is no better time and place to begin than at your upcoming Thanksgiving holiday!

For more information on Edie’s new children’s book, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Grandpa-Lucy-story-about-Dementia/dp/1978288824