Dining out at a restaurant can be a rewarding experience for older adults with dementia, allowing them to savor delicious meals while enjoying the company of family and friends. While it may present some challenges, thoughtful preparation can ensure a successful and enjoyable dining experience for everyone involved.
Why Dining Out Matters
For seniors with dementia, dining out isn’t merely about the food; it’s an opportunity to maintain a sense of inclusion and normalcy. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that not everyone with dementia will find dining out suitable. Still, if you believe your loved one could enjoy the experience, it’s worth a try.
In this article, we share six invaluable tips to help you plan and prepare for dining out with seniors with dementia. These tips can help you avoid potential issues and ensure a more relaxed and pleasant mealtime.
Choose a Suitable Restaurant
People with dementia are often more sensitive to their surroundings. Selecting a restaurant that minimizes agitation, anxiety, or confusion is crucial for a pleasant dining experience. Opt for:
- A quiet, calm environment
- Familiar restaurants where your loved one feels comfortable
- A less crowded or noisy venue
- A restaurant with accommodating staff
- A place that serves your loved one’s preferred foods
- Easy access to a restroom, and if necessary, one that accommodates assistance
Consider your loved one’s daily rhythms when planning your restaurant visit. Many seniors feel their best earlier in the day when they’re less fatigued. Arriving for lunch as early as 11 am can be an excellent choice, as the restaurant is likely to be less crowded, and service may be quicker. Alternatively, plan for a late lunch or an early dinner if those times align with your loved one’s energy levels.
Bring Essential Dining and Bathroom Items
To make the dining experience smoother, remember to pack items your loved one typically uses during a meal, such as special utensils, dishware, a cup, towels, moist wipes, and clothing protectors. Additionally, ensure you have any necessary items for bathroom assistance.
Communicate Your Needs at the Restaurant
When you arrive at the restaurant, request a table in a quiet area or one where your loved one can have their back to the crowd. This helps prevent feelings of being overwhelmed or agitated. Inform the server of any special requirements, such as extra napkins or utensils, and specify if you prefer faster service or want all courses served together.
Assist your loved one in placing their order to avoid confusion. Offer one or two meal options that you know they enjoy, read parts of the menu aloud, or point out pictures for easier decision-making.
Consider Discreet Disclosure
If you believe it would be helpful, discreetly distribute “awareness cards” explaining your companion’s dementia diagnosis. These cards can request patience and understanding from fellow diners without drawing undue attention or embarrassing your loved one. You can create your own cards, find templates online, or purchase pre-printed ones.
Some helpful resources:
- Free download and print Dementia assistance cards – Tip: leave the fields blank, check the “Companion card” box, choose “8 labels,” and click the “Create card” button
- Free download and print Alzheimer’s Please Be Patient card
- Free download and print awareness cards for Lewy Body dementia
- Purchase pre-printed Alzheimer’s Please Be Patient cards
Keep It Short and Sweet
Seniors with dementia can tire easily, so keeping the restaurant outing brief is essential. Consider skipping appetizers and ordering entrees that the kitchen can prepare quickly. Avoid rushing your loved one during the meal, as this may cause agitation. Instead, watch for signs of fatigue and head home before exhaustion leads to anxiety or irritability.
Dining out with seniors with dementia can be a delightful experience with the right preparation. By following these six tips, you can create cherished memories and ensure that everyone enjoys the meal, the company, and the sense of normalcy that dining out can provide.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
For more resources, subscribe to our free newsletter!