Apr 30, 2017

8 Suggestions For Eating Out with a Person Living with Dementia

Caregivers are often reluctant to take their love one out to a restaurant. Don't be. Once you get the hang of it, and get in the grove, you and your loved one will benefit greatly.

My family member has Alzheimer's ...
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Several years ago I wrote, Alzheimer's Caregiver Lament -- I Can't Take Her Out because She Eats with Her Hands; and now, I am once again reminded how very difficult it can be for caregivers to take their loved one out to eat.

One of the biggest problems caregivers face is the stigma attached to Alzheimer's disease and dementia. For certain, this can be a very big emotional and psychological hurdle and barrier for caregivers.

Some caregivers overcome this obstacle by carrying a card they can hand to service people, or people they encounter while out. Like the one above.

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With Dotty I learned it is essential to have a good plan before you go out to eat.

For example, I learned early on that taking Dotty out to a "fancy" restaurant was not going to work.

A place with booths is often the best place to eat.

When you sit in a booth you can sit across the table and right in front of your loved one. This way you can talk to them easily, hold their hand, and reassure them when necessary.

I was not surprised when I took Dotty to a crowded place at how quickly she adjusted. Adjusted is the keyword here. Once she got use to it she adjusted. Plus she liked to go out and eat, so knowing this helped me to adjust.

Sometimes you have to be patient and understanding. So after a couple of trips to the Banana Boat Dotty adjusted and we had our number one go to place.

We went there most Friday's. It was in the BB that Dotty met her new dementia friends. No, her friends didn't have dementia, they were wonderfully kind people that talked to Dotty each and every time we visited the Boat.

The Banana Boat is a crowded place but what happened might surprise you. People actually started saving a seat at the outdoor bar area for Dotty. We could just walk right in and Dotty could sit down immediately. Over time they were waiting for us to arrive. As soon as we arrived people started smiling and saying hello to Dotty. She loved it. Two words - wonderful people.

Topic - Memory Care

Here are some suggestions that should help you when you go out to eat.

1. I would suggest that if the person living with dementia knows a restaurant well and it is not too fancy, go there. 

It is always best to establish a go to place. The staff will get to know you and they will be kind.

At our second favorite place, Eddy's, over time they gave us our own waitress and she was kind and understanding to both my mom and me. She was both empathetic and understanding.This allowed us to get into a routine.

The waitress was so great! She would look at Dotty and ask, are you having coffee tonight? Dotty would answer yes. Then she would ask are you having the linguine with white clam sauce? Again Dotty would answer, yes. It was just so amazing. Yes, Dotty would eat the same thing every time. Watching Dotty roll the linguine on to the fork was also amazing every time. Plus, somehow she never forgot how to do it. This did surprise me.

2. Easy access will become an issue sooner or later. 

This is especially true if you have to wait, etc. The table or booth where you will be sitting should be easy to get to, and you should not have to "shimmy" through tight spots.

Again it was amazing. We just sat outside and waited. When the time came they would call us, and we would get the same exact booth and the same waitress every time. By the way, I didn't ask for this, it just happened on its own. I would go in the door, wave at our waitress, she would acknowledge me, and then it would just happen.

3. If the service is slow, or not quick, I suggest you play the menu game. 

 I would discuss the menu with Dotty and ask her to read items on the menu to me; and then, I would discuss the items with her. The menu game is a lot of fun. Of course, you could get creative and bring something with you to do.

4. Number one Big NO NO, don't sit around in silence. 

Your stomach will start hurting and it will get very trying. I know this because it happened to me often in the beginning. But once I got the hang of it, there was never a problem.

5. Eat outside when you can. 

McDonald's is a good alternative. Everyone needs sunlight. Sunlight helps improve mood, and it is also the best way to get vitamin D. Did you know if a person is low on vitamin D it can cause them to be lethargic and sometimes they start to show symptoms similar to dementia. Make sure you get your vitamin D.

6. Restrooms can be an issue. 

Keep that in mind. You might also want to get in the habit of carrying a change of clothes around with you just in case. Give this some thought; and, always be prepared.

7. Don't be hesitant to order for your loved one. 

I would say to my mother are you going to order white clams with linguine? Easy enough. Think positive. Do be afraid to control the situation and environment. My mother never seemed to mind, and besides, she didn't know what she wanted to eat. I knew her my entire life, I knew what she wanted to eat, so I just helped her out. Nothing wrong with being helpful, is there?

8. Find a restaurant with good, kind, understanding staff. 

Let me tell you, once you get this right you will feel so good when you go out. Understanding people that will work with you can make your day. I know this to be true because it happened to us over and over. Believe it or not there are lots of wonderful people out there and they out number the jerks.

These are just a few of my ideas for eating out.

I can tell you Dotty benefited from being out in the world, and it really helped her attitude and behavior. Dotty liked to go out, and once we got into the groove we just kept going out without problem.

You have to continue living your life. One way is to get out and around. Both the caregiver and their loved one benefit when they continue doing things together.

I met a lot of people when I was out with Dotty. I even me my girlfriend. People are kind. When you keep going to the same place the people there see your commitment to your loved. They start admiring you, and then respect you - and the best part is when they see your commitment they want to help you.

It all feels good. The odd part is on one hand many of us feel abandoned by family and friends. On the other hand, complete strangers are willing to help us. Go figure.

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.

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