Spending time with family and friends is highly encouraged to keep a loved one with dementia engaged and connected. But as the disease progresses, you also should set reasonable expectations about what your loved one can handle. Planning a dinner at a loud or dark new restaurant, for example, might end in frustration and sadness. While some individuals will be comfortable at a favorite spot, sometimes the location is crowded or takes a long time to serve which can make it less enjoyable than it used to be.
Helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Consider a restaurant your loved one is familiar with and has enjoyed frequenting in the past as familiar surroundings and a favorite dish may create a calming, comforting experience.
- If you prefer to try someplace new, scout ahead and evaluate the following details:
- Is it noisy? Loud sounds can startle and unnerve an individual with dementia.
- How’s the lighting? Dark and dim surroundings may create uncertainty and confusion.
- Will it be crowded? Constant commotion is distracting and unsettling. Try dining at an off-peak time and day.
- Is the menu easy to understand? Multiple choices may be appealing to the rest of your party, but too many is hard to process and can be discouraging for those with dementia.
- Will your loved one need help ordering and/or managing the desired meal? A simply constructed and presented dish can help a loved one dine more independently and with dignity.
- Is the meal service lengthy? Your party may have enjoyed a leisurely meal lasting several hours in the past, but now your loved one’s attention span is shorter and anxiety higher. Consider returning home for dessert and coffee for a change of scenery.
- Are there many stairs or obstacles? Navigating steps, turns and tight tables can create mobility issues and fall hazards.
- Request a table away from the kitchen, ideally in a quiet corner where you have more space and fewer distractions.
- Talk to the wait staff beforehand to inform them of your loved one’s diagnosis so they may be more patient and accommodating. Suggest they bend down to eye level when taking the order or addressing questions.
- Encourage your party to engage your loved one in the conversation. Resist correcting him or her if he or she strays to an alternate reality. Rather, ask open-ended, broad questions such as those beginning with Who, What, Where, When and How. Avoid asking Why as it requires a reasonable, logical explanation and likely will frustrate or even offend him or her.
- Have a bag of emergency supplies with you to handle with any potential accidents.
- Above all be prepared and have a plan.
Enjoyable experiences are possible with an individual with dementia. By adjusting your expectations, anticipating changes will happen and being patient with your loved one and yourself will help ensure a more positive engagement and interaction.