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Plan Ahead to Make Thanksgiving Special for Aging Relatives

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.--- Throughout the United States, families and friends gather together for Thanksgiving.

Planning ahead is important - especially when hosting an elderly relative with special needs. That might mean preparing a new food, making sure the table can accommodate a wheelchair or setting an extra place for a home health aide.

"When people think about holiday gatherings, they tend to recreate everything they did the year before," said Janice Williams, CLTC, vice president, Matrix Home Care, a statewide service provider. "But if the condition of your parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle has changed recently, you should revisit those family traditions and make accommodations for any special needs."

Pernille Ostberg, MBA, RPh, Matrix president and CEO, says holiday change can be particularly hard when it's the mother who has suffered a serious health problem. "In that case, it's important for the children to take charge and coordinate the Thanksgiving planning themselves," she said. "Ideally, mom can enjoy the holiday without being on center stage."

While each family's situation is different, here are some suggestions for a warm and satisfying Thanksgiving at home. Plan your menu in advance. An elderly relative might be on a low-salt or low-sugar diet, for instance, or need a dish prepared separately. If a loved one has problems with swallowing, ask a nutritionist about how to prepare the right Thanksgiving foods so they can be included.

Create a quiet place where your loved one can rest during the afternoon. Thanksgiving is a wonderful family gathering time but often overwhelming for an elderly person. This also includes reviewing your home's layout. If grandma uses a walker, can she come in through the garage door instead of the front steps? Are the doors wide enough for dad's wheelchair? Reserving any needed medical equipment in advance such as an oxygen tank, a special bed or a wheelchair ramp is highly recommended.

Consider hiring a local caregiver for the day to support your loved one and allow you to focus on the mealtime preparation and the family get-together. If your parent or grandparent has an aide, invite the caregiver to share the day with your family. Something as simple as making sure the right bathroom supplies are on hand and temporarily raising a toilet seat if your loved one has a mobility issue will provide added comfort. Many families go out to eat at a restaurant, letting someone else do the meal planning. In that case, it's a good idea to visit the location in advance. Are there stairs that will be difficult for a loved one to climb? Is the restroom large enough for a wheelchair? Is there enough "breathing room" between the tables so your mom or dad won't feel trapped in a seat?

If a big Thanksgiving dinner - at home or in a restaurant - would be too overwhelming for your loved one, you could organize several one-on-one visits. For instance, you could bring something for breakfast and help your loved one get up for the day. Your brother might come for lunch and your sister could help prepare a nice Thanksgiving dinner for two.

"You have to take a realistic look at things," said Williams. "If you have questions, it's always a good idea to talk with a professional caregiver. Finally, keep your sense of perspective - be thankful that you can still share Thanksgiving with your loved one."

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