Having meals together is one of the main ways we connect, but caregivers can't have friends over often, if at all: It's impossible to predict what kind of day you'll have. A certain amount of planning and preparation goes into any invitation, and caregivers are usually too stressed to add additional responsibilities to the mix, even in an effort to find some relief and fun. Here are two ways you can provide both companionship and dinner:
Have a "Baggie" dinner. Have you ever thought about how many recipes can be made with a few ingredients—chopped and measured ahead of time—and transported in sandwich bags? One friend with a store-bought pizza crust and bottled sauce, and another with shredded mozzarella and toppings have in hand a quick, one-dish dinner. The same could be accomplished with tacos, salads, casseroles—any number of different dinners. Add ice cream, maybe a glass of wine, and you can provide a social diversion that breaks up a long line of of tedious, homebound evenings.
Take over takeout. The options for prepared food are plentiful—the hot bar at Whole Foods, fast food places with healthy options, meal delivery services. Almost every downtown street corner has a restaurant that offers to-go service. For an occasional kindness, you may want to treat your friend. If you'll be taking food over regularly and need to share the cost, be upfront about it. Decide together how much to spend.
Here are some tips:
Schedule around the caregiver's time and the patient's needs. Be willing to turn a blind eye to backsliding table manners and failing conversation skills, but don't be afraid to ask the caregiver for what you prefer: "I've missed talking with you. Could we spend a couple of hours together, just the two of us? Does your husband settle down or go to bed by late evening and not need as much of your attention?" Be aware, though, that people with advanced dementia are sometimes anxious when the caregiver is out of sight, and finding a window of time alone may be difficult.
Be flexible. You may need to reschedule at the last minute. Dementia (any form of it) is unpredictable in the mid-stage. The caregiver can't help being caught up by an unexpected problem. Reschedule, though, don't cancel.
Although your friend is too far along in the illness to participate with understanding in social events, s/he may still be able to enjoy a night away from home. Click here to read the story of a dinner party that included a guest with late stage Alzheimer's. It's from my book, and there are tips at the end for how to do it yourself.