Dining out with your loved ones with dementia can be a joyous occasion that builds precious memories. However, it is important to be sensitive to the needs of those with dementia, as unfamiliar public restaurants may be challenging for them to navigate.
People with dementia are more sensitive to the sights, sounds and smells of their environment. When choosing a restaurant, you should consider one that will not be overly busy, smelly, or loud. A restaurant that is a sensory overload may cause agitation and anxiety which can lead to an unpleasant experience. Choosing the right restaurant with the right environment can minimize the chances of having issues or an incident. Look for a restaurant that has a calm and quiet culture or has spaces that are more private. Another feature to be mindful of is that of accessibility, the restaurant should be accessible to any mobile or bathroom needs that your loved one may have. The ideal restaurant is one that your loved one is familiar with and has the experience of being comfortable there.
They say timing is everything and this is especially true when dining out with a loved one with dementia. Older adults typically become more tired as the day progresses and are easily worn out with high activity. Consider brief dining out experiences to ensure that your loved one is not becoming overtired. As well, most older adults find they have more energy earlier in the day and in order to be accommodating to their schedule it may be better to go out for a meal during their best time of the day so it is more likely to be fun and successful. Earlier may also be a great idea because the restaurant will be less busy and you may get quicker service.
While dining out you should be on the lookout for signs that your loved one is feeling tired or agitated. No one likes being rushed while eating, so allow them to eat at their own pace and transition them home when appropriate. This may mean that you skip out on dessert or take your food to go but it will also allow you a more pleasant experience when you are able to be flexible in when you leave. Fatigue can make them more anxious, angry, and uncooperative so it is better to leave early before they become overtired.
Everyone requires different items in order to make them comfortable and accommodated. Your elderly loved one may require specific helpful dining utensils or materials and those should be brought from home in order to maintain their standard of care. This is also true for any necessary bathroom items and materials which would allow your elderly loved one to be able to use the facilities comfortably.
Ask for Help
At the restaurant or ideally before arriving at the restaurant you should call ahead in order to ask if you can be serviced in a way that is accessible for your loved one with dementia. For those with dementia who struggle with sensory overload, it is beneficial to ask to be seated at a quiet table or booth where your loved one can sit with their back to the crowd. By facing them to a calmer less active area, it can help them from being overwhelmed by too much visual stimulus. if you require fast service, you should ensure you tell that to your server at the beginning of the meal so that way they can bring all of your order at once to save time. if you need any extra napkins, utensils or other resources ensure you ask for them at the beginning of the meal so you receive them promptly.
Having dementia means that your elderly loved one may struggle with memory, cognitive ability, physical function, and daily tasks. Therefore, your loved one will require more assistance when dining out in an unfamiliar environment. You can help your loved one by suggesting two meal choices that you know they will like and having them choose between those two. As well, you can read food descriptions on the menu and point to relevant pictures to assist with clarity. In addition, just as a new dining experience may cause confusion, so will using an unfamiliar bathroom. It can be difficult for people with dementia to use a toilet when the experience is unfamiliar or overwhelming, so if they need to go use the restroom it is best that you go with them and aid in order to keep the experience pleasant and avoid any accidents.
Having dementia means unfamiliar experiences can be a challenge, however, life is all about new experiences and just because someone has dementia does not mean they do not want to experience new and fun restaurants. Delicious food, wonderful companions and a delightful atmosphere are for everyone. And with some sensitive accommodations, your loved one with dementia can enjoy it as well.