Going out to eat with family and friends can be a routine bonding experience. It adds variety to your everyday life while providing the necessary socialization for a vibrant lifestyle.
However, as a caregiver for a loved one living with dementia, you may feel that dining out is not an option for your family. Missing out on these opportunities for greater social engagement can lead to feelings of isolation and, for the caregiver, even burnout.
Fortunately, there are ways to dine out with your loved one and cater to his/her needs.
Be Sure to Plan Ahead
Just as if you were going out to eat with a group of friends, you will benefit from planning your restaurant excursion in advance. Making a plan prior to the day of your meal will allow you to prepare, make a reservation, and give you and your loved one something about which to look forward.
Making a reservation is a crucial part of the planning process. Not only will this cut down on waiting time for your party, but it will also allow you to discuss your needs with the restaurant staff. You can also personalize a companion card to give to restaurant staff members, notifying them discretely of your loved one’s dementia.
Caregivers Can (and Should) Ask Questions
When making your reservation, do not be afraid to ask questions or to make requests. Dining out is not just about the food, it is also about the experience. Keeping in mind the lighting, sound, and overall “energy” of the restaurant are important in preparing for your meal. Dimly-lit rooms that are loud and busy can create anxiety for your loved one.
Some questions to ask the restaurant:
- What is the least busy time to dine in?
- Is there easy access to a restroom?
- Is the restaurant well lit?
- Do you offer secluded seating options?
- Can menu items be modified?
You and your loved one could also benefit from visiting a restaurant you have frequented in the past. Perhaps taking your loved one to a diner he/she visited during childhood for weekend brunch can spark a moment of joy.
Going Out to Eat as a Caregiver
On the day of your outing, be sure to pack a bag of things your loved one usually uses when eating. The dining experience should be as stress-free as possible for you and your loved one; therefore, it is OK to bring your own adaptive utensils, wipes, easy-to-use cups, and extra napkins — whatever makes life easier for you.
Other items to bring:
- A sweater if your loved one becomes cold
- Any items needed in the bathroom
- Your loved one’s favorite aid or fidget item
Be sure to keep in mind your loved one’s personal needs when traveling to the restaurant and allow for extra travel time.
It is All About the Experience
You may not be dining at a five-star restaurant, but that is not what matters. What truly matters is the shared time together. Having quality time outside of the home is a special experience — one that can create a stronger bond with your loved one.