‘Dementia-friendly’ restaurants train to help customers

February 9, 2019 GMT

KITTY HAWK, N.C. (AP) — If you’ve gone to the Black Pelican Oceanfront Restaurant lately, you may have seen a purple seahorse on the wall.

It’s one of 12 restaurants that boast the symbol. They’re part of The Healthy Carolinians of the Outer Banks Dementia Task Force, a collaborative effort among businesses, government agencies, restaurants and The Outer Banks Hospital to train employees to become dementia-friendly, said task force volunteer Jan Collins.

She and two other members have spent the past three years training restaurant staff in how to interact with people who suffer from dementia. On Tuesday, she went to an Outer Banks Restaurant Association meeting at Black Pelican to get more eateries on board.

“We had five in 2017,” Collins said to them. “We have 12 now, but how many restaurants do we have down here?”

She wants to get at least 50 percent of local eateries to sign up, she said. Or all of them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signs of dementia include memory loss that disrupts daily life, like getting lost in a familiar place, repeating questions and trouble handling money and paying bills.

That can be tough on families and caregivers, said Collins, who spent eight years caring for her mother who suffered from dementia. Some people feel “despair and isolation” because they can’t get out of the house.

The task force hopes to give caregivers some relief, she said.

They also want to put the seahorse symbol on menus and start conversations about dementia and local resources that are available, like Alzheimer’s support groups and in-home relief care, so caregivers can step out knowing their loved ones are cared for at home.

“There are so many people that need assistance and we have a lot of resources, but if we don’t talk about it, they don’t find them,” Collins said.

So what is dementia-friendly training?

Employees watch a presentation about dementia, its signs, role play and take a quiz about how to respond when those with dementia come into restaurants. Each employee gets a certificate once the training is over. The presentation takes 20 minutes and it’s free for restaurants to participate, Collins said.

Collins shows employees the most effective ways to work with customers who have dementia, like lowering their speaking voices, looking at them from the front versus the side, putting food on a plate that makes it easier to see and redirecting conversations or complimenting diners when they’re agitated.

“What you’re doing is diffusing the argument by going to another topic,” Collins said.

Another example is refraining from arguing with customers who have dementia, she said. If a person forgets their order or says the server brought the wrong dish, the server should lower their voice, say they’ll bring the correct item, go to the kitchen and bring the same plate back. The customer might remember ordering it after all, Collins said.

Cara Godwin was at Tuesday’s meeting. She’s an assistant general manager and marketing director at Blue Water Grill in Manteo and Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head, she said. About 60 of her employees completed the training last May.

They’ve received positive feedback from families, she said.

“The more establishments, whether it be a restaurant or a store, anything that we can do to help the community is a great thing,” she said.

A man who has dementia comes into Black Pelican daily, said Summer Copeland, who works there. It was the first restaurant to complete dementia-friendly training.

“We have a lot of 19 and 20-year-old servers,” Copeland said. “They have no idea what dementia really is. They went to the training and it opened their eyes to the fact that these people aren’t being rude or can’t remember.”

The task force would like to get pharmacies, grocery stores and coffee shops like Starbucks on board, Collins said.

For now, they’re starting in their own backyard.


Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com