“Susan, is that you? Oh Susan, it’s so lovely to see you. It’s been years and years!” a mother calls out to her son. He visited her memory care facility just yesterday, to prepare her to see the grandkids and spend time with her one-on-one. Still, she conjures up images of her best friend from high school and in turn struggles to remember her firstborn son.
These interactions can make being with a parent or loved one with dementia emotionally taxing. Sometimes, the person who raised you simply can’t remember who you are, and the fallout can lead to bone-aching pain. But, that doesn’t mean spending time with him or her should be avoided. Socializing with your loved one with dementia, especially during the holiday season, is highly encouraged to keep him or her engaged and connected.
That said, proper preparation for memory support is crucial. Consider these eight tips when planning a Christmas dinner out with the whole family:
Before the dinner:
- Be mindful when choosing a location. If you can, make a reservation at a family-favorite restaurant your loved one remembers. This simple step can avoid a mountain of discomfort and uncertainty in one fell swoop. If you do try a new restaurant, scout it out in person before the big day. Review the venue’s noise level, scenery, menu difficulty and number of stairs. Too many stairs can pose an issue for a person suffering from dementia.
- When reserving a table, try requesting a private room. This way, sights and sounds can be minimized to avoid overstimulation. If the venue doesn’t have a private room, request a table away from the kitchen area in the quietest nook available.
- Speak to the waitstaff and restaurant management about your concerns ahead of time. Inform them of your loved one’s condition so they can be properly prepared. Suggest small accommodations such as bending down to eye level when your loved one asks questions or places an order.
- Acquaint yourself with the menu. If you go to a new restaurant, too many different options can cause undue stress and confusion on your loved one. Read the menu ahead of time and take the guesswork out of your loved one’s meal.
During and after the dinner:
- 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 may frustrate or even offend him or her. You can learn more about a particular approach like this, known as validation therapy, in our recent blog post.
- If the service becomes slow or unpredictable, consider indulging in coffee, desserts and/or present unwrapping at home. Your loved one could become restless or agitated if kept waiting too long.
- Remember: Keep positive and have fun! Worrying too much about the possibility of an accident can sometimes cause the accident itself. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking and preparation. Arming yourself with a solid plan, accounting for mishaps or accidents, will prepare you for an enjoyable holiday evening.
- Once the night is over, consider having a plan in place to decompress and rejuvenate. It’s natural to feel physically and emotionally drained when you’re concerned for a loved one’s happiness and safety. Above all else, be prepared and have fun. Having a plan in place eases some anxiety shrouding the unknown and leaves you with more family time.
If you have a loved one who might benefit from Country Meadows Retirement Communities or our memory support services or personal care services, please read our additional information, view our video or contact us to ask about our memory care support locations and services. Gain more insight in our tip sheet “Dining Out with a Loved One with Dementia.”