Sharing meals with our loved ones as dementia takes its toll

  • Until I became a full-time employee at a newspaper, I'd made my noon hour the regular time for a daily visit with my elders in a nearby nursing home. Early on, that meant picking my mother up at her apartment and taking her along with me to see Dad who was the first to need nursing home care.


    Eventually, Mom needed nursing home care, as did my mother-in-law. I was then spreading myself out during the lunch hour, trying to be a part of the meal with each of them. Needless to say, I wasn't always successful in carrying this out to everyone's satisfaction, but I tried.


    What brought these thoughts to mind was an essay about a family sharing meals with their loved one who has dementia. Antanas Sileika, the author of "Dinners in the dementia ward," an article published on, provided us with a strong picture of the joys and sorrows of sharing meals with someone who has dementia.

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    For me, even when I had to move my daily nursing home visits to an early morning hour, sometimes followed by an evening visit, I still had the routine of the nursing home birthday parties. (Of course, family members could also have a meal with their loved ones at any time, so there were many other shared meals.)


    Since I had three elders living in the same nursing home, each with a different birthday month, I had the opportunity to attend three different birthday parties. The nursing home invited family members and friends to these parties, however I was, for various reasons, the only family member able to attend most of these parties, other than the other elders living at the nursing home.


    Therefore, the three different monthly parties generally included my dad, who had severe dementia brought on by failed brain surgery. His birthday was in January. My mom, who had a kind of generic dementia that affected her memory but was not diagnosed as anything specific, had a birthday in March. My mother-in-law, who I now believe may have had Alzheimer's disease, had a birthday in June.


    Each party was an adventure, as I never knew what mood anyone would be in, or the degree of clarity they would possess at any given time. There was one of me and three of them. Each elder needed a wheelchair "ride" to the party room and back, plus sometimes a bathroom break or two. Sometimes, one of the elders would get tired and need to go to his or her room, so I'd take that person back to the staff on their floor and then I'd return to the party. At times, one or more of my loved ones was "tuned in" to the party. At other times, there really wasn't much cognizance for any of them.


    However, I never regretted taking the time to reserve our table, get everyone (with whatever help the staff could spare) down to our party table, feeding those who needed help, cutting meat, getting drinks and tending to the other needs of each. After the party, I'd wheel each up to his or her room and gladly turn my loved ones over to the wonderful staff. I then went home feeling like a whipped puppy. However, there was gladness in my heart that I "did it." One more time, I "did it."


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    Was I just going through the motions of celebrating? Sometimes, for one or more of them, that could be the case. However, in general, I feel that the effort was always worth it. A quote from Sileika's article sums up my feelings well:

    "This is dinner in the dementia ward, a little sad and wonderful at the same time. These meals are just shadows of our dinners of the past, just crumbs compared to the feasts we used to enjoy, but they are still very, very sweet, and the taste of them lingers all week long."


    For me, the memories of these dinners are occasionally humorous, but still sweet. Meals are about more than what we eat. Sharing food is sharing love. I did my best to participate, as do many of you. Give yourself credit for your efforts, no matter how superficial they may seem. They do make a difference.


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Published On: January 13, 2011