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Dining out with a Family Member Who Has Alzheimer’s

Caregivers are often reluctant to take a family member who has Alzheimer’s out to dine. Sure, it can be difficult, but once you get the hang of it you and your family will benefit tremendously.

Dining out is a treat everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy, including someone who has Alzheimer’s. Enjoying a good entrée in a restaurant with family and friends gives everyone a chance to unwind and spend time together catching up with what’s going on in their lives. Additionally, it gives someone with Alzheimer’s a chance to enjoy the comforting presence of family and friends.

For many older adults, dining out is a great excuse to get out of the house and a great way to escape the isolation they may feel. For someone dealing with Alzheimer’s, it may be the only outing they still enjoy; however, it can be a challenging experience for all involved.

With just a little planning, you and your family member with Alzheimer’s can enjoy dining out. With this in mind, let’s look at some tips that should help make the experience go as smoothly as possible.

Check out the Restaurant Before Hand

As you make plans, you might want to consider dining at one of their favorite restaurants – it will be more familiar to them which will make them more comfortable and at ease. The goal is to find out how accommodating the restaurant will be for someone whose surroundings matter. Visit or call the restaurant on the same day and time you intend to bring your family member to dine. Ask yourself these questions as you analyze the restaurant’s Alzheimer’s friendliness.

  • Is there a long wait to be seated?
  • Are the tables easy to get to and easy to sit down at? You don’t want to have to shimmy to get to the seating location.
  • Booths often make the best choice. If the restaurant has booths, are they easy to get in and out of? If tables are your only choice, are they sturdy and comfortable?
  • Are the tables served quickly? This is important to prevent restlessness.
  • Are the staff patient and helpful in their interactions with the patrons?
  • Is the restroom easily accessible? If your family member needs toileting assistance, does the restroom have a stall large enough to accommodate both of you?
  • Does the menu have food choices your family member would enjoy?

Make it an Afternoon Affair

Instead of a “big night” out, consider making it a “big afternoon” affair. Because of issues such as sundowner’s syndrome and fatigue, a reservation made earlier in the day is often a better idea. Persons with Alzheimer’s generally do better earlier in the day, such as early afternoon, than they do later in the day. And, by avoiding peak business hours, the restaurant will be less crowded. This translates into less noise and distractions … and a bonus – smaller crowds with shorter waits.

Check Out the Noise Levels

People with Alzheimer’s have a heightened sensitivity to noise and confusion. This may translate into problems in a noisy and congested restaurant. As you consider your restaurant choices, choose one that is on the quiet side and then choose a time when that restaurant is the quietest. Take time to set up a dining experience that decreases opportunities for your family member to feel frustrated or annoyed which is likely to prevent possible outbursts of anger or frustration. This gives everyone the best opportunity to enjoy their time together.

Remember, “noisy” is a relative term. What you consider acceptable may prove to overwhelm a person who has Alzheimer’s. Remember, a restaurant doesn’t have to be rowdy and boisterous for the noise levels to cause anxiety triggers. Some restaurants even have a “no cell phones” policy which could be helpful. Overhearing one-sided phone conversations can also cause anxiety as they try to make sense of their surroundings.

Be Ready and Available to Help When Needed

Small print on menus and dim lighting can make menus difficult to read. Menus with lots of choices can overwhelm a person with Alzheimer’s. There are a few ways you can deal with these issues. Look at an online menu with them and have them make their selections. This may work if they remember having done so, but many will not. Some may just let you order for them. For others, they will insist to see the menu themselves.

Second, after having looked at the online menu with them and noting their choices, you can point these choices out to them in the restaurant. Although they may not remember making the selection at home, they’re likely to recognize a favorite when pointed out to them.

Lastly, you can easily create an abbreviated menu at home that includes everyone’s favorite food choices. Print out enough copies for everyone at the table; then covertly give the copies to the waitress to pass out to everyone at your table.

Consider your seating options. You want to choose those that will best help them cope with being out in public. Booths on an outside wall are generally your best choice for seating options. They typically provide privacy while shielding your family member from distractions and noise levels. Seating next to the kitchen can be a problem. Ask to be seated away from the kitchen. At the same time, ask for seating that is in close proximity to the restroom in the event they need to get there quickly.

Accompany them to the restroom, offering support and assistance as needed. Be prepared to accompany them into the stall to provide any assistance they may need. Carry an emergency bag with you containing baby wipes and a change of clothes for any accidents that may occur.

If the use of utensils is difficult for them, order finger foods. Good choices include hamburgers, sandwiches, wraps, pita pockets, french fries, tater tots and fruit.

Make it a Weekly Event

Why not make it a weekly event? Familiarity and routines make everything easier for people who have Alzheimer’s. Make arrangements to dine at the same restaurant at the same time and day every week and to sit at the same table. It should make it easier for everyone concerned. Plus, as the waitresses become familiar with your family member and your family member with them, everything is likely to flow much smoother and be more enjoyable for all.

Special Purple Table Reservations

Some restaurants offer Purple Table Reservations for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Purple Table Reservations is the brainchild of Jennifer Apazicis. As the owner of a restaurant and after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she started the program to meet the needs of this special population of people. If your family member’s favorite restaurant does not have the Purple Table Reservations program, tell restaurant management about it and encourage them to become a part of the program. Let them know how important it is to you and your family to be able to eat out, despite an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Not only will this program help you and your family, but it will also fill a need for other families who are dealing with Alzheimer’s and other disabilities as well.

Dining Out with a Family Member Who has Alzheimer’s

Let’s look at a few final tips:

  • Be patient and understanding
  • Reassure them when necessary
  • Give them time to adjust. The second trip will be easier than the first, and the third easier than the second. Don’t give up if the first trip is unsuccessful.
  • Be prepared for slow service. Bring something to distract your family member. Bring family photos that they can discuss with you. Bring grandchildren’s art and coloring to share with them. Find ways you know will work with them and be prepared to use them. If all else fails and you forgot to bring something, discuss the items on the menu. Ask questions like, have they ever eaten the item, did they like it, were they someplace special when they first ate it, etc. Be creative.
  • Be prepared with things to discuss during the entrée to keep everyone comfortable and amused
  • Find a restaurant with a good, kind and understanding wait staff. This will make it easier.

Discover Tessera of Brandon

Tessera of Brandon is ready to make a difference in the life of someone who has Alzheimer’s. In our Valeo memory care neighborhood, residents thrive with programming that is adapted to specifically assist residents who have memory impairments. Valeo, in fact, is derived from the Latin meaning for “to thrive.” Contact us today to learn more. Don’t forget to download our Memory Care Resource Guide. And, most of all, take time to enjoy good times dining out with your family member.

Our resource Guide brings all the pieces together.

It’s easier to make a decision about Tessera of Brandon when you see how beautifully we’ve put it all together to create this vibrant and welcoming community.

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