People with dementia often react badly to situations with too many people or occasions that present them with too many choices. Dining out often involves large groups of people and many meal choices. It is possible to enjoy a meal out with a loved one, but you have to choose the right environment and prepare ahead of time. Something small and cozy with a booth or table away from the main flow of foot-traffic is a good place to start. You will also need to make sure it is easy to get in and out of seating, and it is better if you can see the restrooms from your table.
A “fancy” restaurant can present a problem, since it usually can hold a large number of people, has a formal place setting with multiple forks and spoons and offers an extensive menu. Your loved one will likely find it easier to dine in a more relaxed restaurant that serves many finger foods and eating with fingers is not frowned upon. Your wait staff should be made aware that a person in your party has Alzheimer’s, so theycan better assist you during your visit. Inform your waiter that you will be ordering for your loved one, unless your loved one has already selected items and will be able to give his or her order to the server.
Tips for a good dining out experience with a loved one who has dementia include:
- Have plan.
- Find places with outside dining for a change of pace
- Order on behalf of your loved one.
- Skip “fancy” restaurants.
- Find a place that works for your needs and go there often.
- Avoid booths or tables that are a tight fit.
- Keep conversation going. Two good topics are fond memories and favorite music.
- Give your repeat business to places with helpful, considerate staff.
- If service is slow, read the menu to one another and discuss the food.
- Know where restrooms are located. Consider bringing a change of clothes on outings.
It is usually a good idea to find seating in eye sight of the restrooms. Whether or not your seating is near a restroom, an extra change of clothes will give you peace of mind that your meal out will not be cut short due to a restroom related accident. Plus, you will have extra clean clothes, in case your loved one spills a beverage or drops food on his or her clothing. While waiting for your food, you can use the menu as a conversation starter or you and your loved one can share stories of childhood adventures. Hobbies and music would also be good dinner conversation starters.
When you do find a restaurant you and your loved one enjoy visiting, put it at the top of your restaurant list and go there as often as you can. While it is great to dine in, it is nice to eat outside occasionally. Look for a second restaurant where you can eat your meal outside and enjoy the weather. If your new favorite place to dine has an out door dining area, even better! It may take a bit searching, but you can find suitable places where you and your loved one with dementia can dine together and have a good time!
*Adapted from the article “8 Suggestions for Eating Out with a Person Living with Dementia” at Alzheimersreadingroom.com.