Most people with Alzheimer’s benefit from getting out of the house. Being cooped up all the time can lead to boredom, increased agitation and sleep disturbances. If your loved is in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s and enjoys going to restaurants, and you are still comfortable taking him or her out to eat, here are a few tips to make the special meal even more relaxed and pleasant for everyone.
Choosing the eatery
Which restaurants has your loved one always liked? Familiar places may be preferable to a brand-new setting. Here are some things to consider:
Is the place too noisy—or maybe too quiet? Do they have a big-screen TV or loud music? This can be disturbing for people with dementia; hearing loss makes it even worse. On the other hand, many caregivers report that if a restaurant is too quiet or formal, they feel more self-conscious if their loved one talks loudly or makes unexpected comments. When tables are too close together, this can also make everyone uncomfortable.
Will you have to wait longer to be seated and served than is comfortable for your loved one? Is the waiting area chaotic or crowded? Can you make a reservation, and will the restaurant understand your situation and ensure that you are seated promptly? A place where service is relatively fast is usually better than one with a leisurely pace between courses.
Is the space suitable for your loved one’s mobility or sensory challenges? Are there stairs to navigate? If your loved one has difficulty walking, or uses an assistive device such as wheelchair or cane, select a restaurant that can accommodate them comfortably. Are restrooms accessible and easy to reach? A single-stall restroom provides privacy and convenience if you need to assist your loved one with using the toilet and adjusting clothing.
Does your loved one have food restrictions, such as low salt or low fat? Can the kitchen accommodate those special requests? Some offer detailed nutritional information; in others, servers are able to provide information about the ingredients of a particular dish. What about food preferences? Your loved one may be more sensitive to foods that are too hot, spicy or sour. Do they offer senior size or other smaller meals?
Is the restaurant well lit? This is a big consideration. Many stylish bistros feature mood lighting, which can put your loved one in a bad mood if they cannot see the table well. Low lighting also creates a fall risk.
Choosing the time
You know your loved one’s daily rhythms best. Is he or she most alert first thing in the morning? Brunch might be a good choice, and eateries tend to be less crowded early on. If your loved one naps, it might be good to go after he or she wakes up.
As with any outing, it’s best if you can be flexible as you plan a restaurant outing. Is your loved one having a good day? Maybe this is a good time for an impromptu meal out! On the other hand, if you’ve planned to dine out but your loved one seems tired and upset, it’s better to postpone.
It’s good to establish a relationship with the staff of an eatery if you’ll go there often with your loved one. An understanding and helpful server can help put your loved one—and you—at ease and help things go smoothly. Help the server know what your loved one needs, such as a bowl, extra napkins and spoons or filling glasses only halfway.
If your loved one won’t be able to read the menu, make suggestions of things they might enjoy to make selection easier. If the restaurant has an online menu, you might want to peruse that ahead of time and make your selection before you arrive.
Bring along items you might need, such as special utensils and serving ware that your loved one uses, a towel or wipes and any bathroom items.
Ask for a table in a quieter, out-of-the-way part of the restaurant, near the restroom if possible. It may help to have your loved one face away from the kitchen, front door and other more busy areas.
If the meal won’t arrive quickly, ask for a bread basket or an appetizer to be served right away.
Special venues for people with dementia
Food service research shows that the baby boomers and their parents are dining out more often than they used to; indeed, senior diners are the fastest growing group to take more of their meals out. More restaurants are focusing on the needs of senior diners.
In addition, many venues now offer special dining events for people with dementia and their caregivers. These “Alzheimer’s cafes” can be a lovely occasion to relax, make friends, and enjoy your loved one’s company in a nonjudgmental setting.
Source: IlluminAge. Copyright 2016 IlluminAge.