Mom and I look very forward to Wednesdays. We have a standing dinner date with a small circle of Mom’s longtime close friends. Mom may not know exactly when Wednesday is, but she remembers her girlfriends.
But the restaurant experience can be very daunting for someone with dementia. Decisions are harder to make, and the environment can be distracting at best, or worse. Here are a few things I’ve learned along my journey with Mom about dining out.
Dining-Out Tips for People with Dementia
- Avoid restaurants that are loud or crowded, or cater to families with small children. People living with dementia can get overstimulated very easily, and this can cause anxiety.
- Avoid restaurants with long or complicated menus. Too many choices are very challenging for someone with cognitive and memory dysfunction.
- Avoid restaurants where you queue in line and order at a counter. This puts too much pressure to decide with people behind them in line awaiting their turn.
- Chat casually with your friend or loved one about the menu as they look it over. Bring up items you know they like, and see what response you get. If they seem interested in one or two items, hang on to that information until the server comes back. You may even find employing “therapeutic fibbing” helpful. “You said you wanted this.”
- Let everyone at the table order first.
- Don’t let the server, “…give you a few more minutes.” This is a tricky balancing act, because you don’t want your friend/loved one to feel pushed or rushed. But a few more minutes will go on endlessly. How you approach it depends greatly on them. I can actually say, “No, she has to choose.” And it works with Mom. But you may have to experiment.
- Try to get ahead of the inevitable, “Soup, salad and choice of side?” by getting those preferences before the server comes to take orders.
- If your loved one goes out with a friend/family member to lunch or dinner without you occasionally, make sure you fill them in on how best to enjoy their dining out with your loved one.
Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean they are no longer capable of enjoying things they did before. A little awareness, technique, and tips can help them continue to enjoy a full life.