Pumpkin spice lattes, cozy sweaters paired with boots, the crisp chill in the air pointing towards winter: ahh, the holidays are upon us. This month, pause and take a deep breath before heading out to purchase those holiday decorations and plan those many holiday parties that the month of December demands of us. Pause and be grateful for the many blessings right in front of you. Numerous studies have shown the many health benefits of simply being grateful. As we celebrate Thanksgiving towards the end of November, a holiday founded on gratitude, plan a gratitude-themed month using the ideas listed below.
CELEBRATION – Celebrate all veterans on November 11 with a Veteran Breakfast. Coordinate with your dining team to plan a breakfast fit for a king. Serve breakfast favorites, such as pancakes, bacon, fruit salad, and eggs. For a special treat, ask your chef to create an omelet station for the veterans. Play patriotic music during the event. Distribute red, white, and blue ribbons to honor all veterans. Ask your administrator to say a few words of appreciation and ask your chaplain to say a blessing at the event.
FAMILY – Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for families that are juggling caring for their loved ones at your community as well as managing their own family at home. Instead of hosting a large Thanksgiving meal, keep it simple and plan a “Thankful for You Family Pie Night” a week before Thanksgiving. Serve a variety of pies, ice cream, coffee and apple cider. Use mini pumpkins, gourds, and mums as centerpieces. Hire an entertainer, such as a violinist or pianist, to play background music during the event. Invite other managers to connect with families during the event. Encourage families and residents to share what they’re thankful for this season.
CRAFTS – Create “Gratitude Stones” that residents can place in their rooms to remind them to be thankful. If the weather is still decent in your area, go outdoors for a nature walk and collect small, smooth rocks, about the size of the palm of your hand. River stones can also be purchased at a local craft store. Instruct participants to use acrylic paint or Sharpie markers to paint or draw a heart on the stone. If there is room, encourage participants to write something on the stone for which they are thankful. Once the paint is dry, participants can place their gratitude stones in their rooms where they can be reminded to count their blessings.
MUSIC – Combine song and gratitude this month by composing a gratitude hymn with your group. Sung to the tune of “Are You Sleeping,” teach your group this gratitude hymn:
“I am grateful, I am grateful; Yes I am, Yes I am, I am very grateful, I am very grateful, Yes I am, Yes I am.” Once your group learns the song, pause and ask participants to share what they are thankful for. Ask one participant at a time, taking the time to ask follow-up questions. Then, repeat the hymn and move on to another participant. You may want to give a head’s up to the participant you’ll select next so he or she can think about it while you sing. This is a simple song that works great with people with dementia.
SENSORY – Celebrate gratitude and thankfulness by leading your group in Thanksgiving Through the Senses. Gather participants in a circle and explore Thanksgiving through the five senses: taste, sight, touch, hearing, and smell. Ask your group, “What does Thanksgiving taste like, look like, feel like, sound like, and smell like?” (Ask one question at a time.) Spend time exploring each sense: what does turkey taste like, how would you describe the taste to someone who has never had turkey, what sounds come from the kitchen, what smells reach you when you walk into the kitchen? To go the extra mile, bring samples of Thanksgiving foods, herbs, and spices for participants to smell and sample. Close the group session by asking participants to share what they are thankful for today.
FOOD – Everyone will be thankful that your cooking group made these delicious pumpkin fudge bars: Begin by lining an eight-inch square pan with wax paper. Be sure the wax paper is extra long so that it hangs out of the pan, allowing you to lift out the fudge bars once they are cooled. In a medium bowl, mix together 4 cups of confectioners’ sugar, 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice, and ⅛ teaspoon of allspice. Set aside. Next, put ¼ cup of pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons of milk, ½ stick of butter, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave for two minutes. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave once finished and stir ingredients together until well mixed. Add the pumpkin mixture to the sugar and spice mixture. Stir until all the lumps are gone and the mixture is smooth. Quickly and carefully pour the fudge into the prepared lined pan. Allow the fudge to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes, and then place in the refrigerator for about an hour. When the fudge is completely cooled and set, lift out of the pan using the wax handles you created and then cut into bite-sized pieces. Serve in autumn-themed cupcake liners. This recipe makes approximately 24-32 servings, depending on how big or small you slice the pieces.
COGNITIVE – There are numerous studies on the mind-gratitude connection, how thankfulness leads to the reshaping of the brain in a good way. Build brain power by leading your group in a “Grateful Brain” activity. Begin with sharing this article published by Harvard Medical School: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude. Then, challenge participants to name as many things they are thankful for that begin with the letter A; continue through the entire alphabet. Try to think of at least three things with each letter. If this is too challenging for your group, pick a few letters, or skip the letters all together. After this challenge, lead your group in a mental exercise of thinking gratitude towards someone. Ask them to envision the person they want to thank and instruct them to mentally thank that person. End your group with the trivia questions given below.
SPIRITUAL – Create a “Gratitude Journal” at the beginning of the month and challenge participants to write at least one entry a day throughout the entire month of November. Creating a journal is simple and you probably already have the supplies: lined paper, colored cardstock, a stapler, markers and stickers for decoration (although not necessary). Staple 10-15 sheets of lined paper between two 8 ½ by 11 sheets of colored cardstock. Handwrite “Gratitude Journal” on the front of the journal. Allow participants to select their preferred color and encourage them to decorate. Throughout the month, remind participants to write at least one thing they are thankful for that day. Remind them that they can be thankful for big and little things – for family, friends, health, chocolate, laughter, coffee, etc. For residents who struggle with writing, this would be an excellent one-on-one activity to do with them. At the end of the month, host a “Thankful Tea” and encourage participants to share from their journals.
INTERGENERATIONAL – In the spirit of gratitude and Thanksgiving, plan a “Can-Do” Bingo event and invite a local high school volunteer group or a boy or girl scout troop to join you. “Can-Do” Bingo is regular bingo, except that instead of participants winning prizes, they win canned goods that are donated to a local food pantry. Of course you can still offer regular prizes along with the canned goods. Work with your food vendor who will often donate canned goods for the cause. Be sure to count how many cans the group wins for charity and feature the results in your community newsletter.
SENSORY KIT – Create a “Thank-you Card Box” for your sensory kit this month. Include blank cards, seasonal stickers, stamps, markers, and other card decorating items you may have in your supply closet. Include a variety of thank-you cards for participants to look at or get inspired by. During one-on-one visits, look at the thank-you cards. Then, assist in making a thank-you card with the person you are visiting. Talk about gratitude, ask what he or she is thankful for today, and offer to mail the thank-you card to its intended recipient. Also, for residents who have difficulty writing, offer to write their thank-you cards for them.
GRATEFUL HEARTS TRIVIA
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are 10 fun trivia questions about Thanksgiving.
- Which U.S. president first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday? President Abraham Lincoln
- True or False: All turkeys speak “gobble gobble.” False (Only male turkeys, called toms, gobble. Females, called hens, cackle.)
- Which other country celebrates Thanksgiving? Canada (They celebrate the holiday on the second Monday in October.)
- True or False: Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be America’s national bird. True (According to a letter he wrote to his daughter, he considered the turkey to be a more respectable bird than the eagle.)
- When is Thanksgiving celebrated in the United States? The fourth Thursday of November
- Who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America? The Pilgrims and Native Americans
- Which famous parade, held on Thanksgiving, began in the 1920s? The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Which bone in the turkey is used in a good luck ritual on Thanksgiving? The wishbone
- Which pie is served more on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year? Pumpkin pie
- What is the name of the famous rock where the Pilgrims were said to have first landed? Plymouth Rock
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~ Cicero
“Grateful Hearts” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2016 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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