What are some tips and strategies for taking my mom who has Alzheimer's to eat at a restaurant?

Most caregivers are often uncomfortable or uneasy with the idea of eating out with their loved ones who may face the stigma attached to Alzheimer's disease or dementia. However, with some preplanning and a few other strategies, going to a restaurant can be an enjoyable outing for both caregiver and the affected individual.

The first thing is to choose the appropriate restaurant, one that might not be threatening or overwhelming for your mom. If your mom is familiar with a favored restaurant, start there. She will appreciate the recognizable location, and it might make her comfortable. If you're scouting for a new restaurant, it might take going there a few times to get your mom adjusted, and adjustment is the key to a successful dinner out.

If your mom's mobility is not limited, a restaurant with booths is often best. It allows for a more intimate, quieter setting inasmuch as you can sit across from your mom, talk with her and hold her hand if she gets anxious.

Accessibility is most important in choosing an eating locale for individuals with Alzheimer's or dementia. Look for ones in which your mom can easily maneuver, ones in which you can reach the booth or table without a lot of meandering around tables and chairs. Restaurants that have outside or patio seating work well, too, as your mom might enjoy the fresh air and can soak up some healthy vitamin D if the weather is sunny and warm.

Once you find a restaurant in which your mom is comfortable, go there consistently and it will become a little easier as you form relationships with the staff and they come to understand your journey. They will likely show your mother kindness and empathy. And when the wait staff knows your mom's favorite dishes, they can assist her as she struggles with the menu, which will assure her and will put her at ease. Additionally, watch the time of day you take your mom to the restaurant. You will want to go before or after the busy mealtime rushes.

The restaurant experience is most importantly about interaction and dialogue. As you and your mom wait on the food, engage her in conversation about something she knows. Let her tell stories, reminisce and share your stories, too. It will make your time together enriching for her and memorable for you. Because oftentimes the affected individual feels so isolated, the socialization part of dining can promote a positive attitude and mood in your mom and give her a sense of self-worth and esteem.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at advice@alzbr.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.