What is in this article?:
- Mealtimes and Memory Connect in New Senior Dining Initiative
- Preserving dignity
This month, Cura Hospitality is rolling out Connections, a way to improve mealtime and quality of life for senior living residents.
Connections, a new memory support dining initiative developed by Cura Hospitality, combines a specialized menu with several ways to create a better meal—and quality of life—for those living with memory loss. This includes ‘memory cards’ to spark conversation, creative (and more manageable) finger foods, food-based aromatherapy and innovative ways with purees.
Earlier this year, a task force of Cura managers, chefs and dieticians teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Resource Center in Connecticut to develop the program. The task force set its sites on learning “everything we could about Alzheimer’s Disease (the most common form of dementia),” says Deb Santoro, RD, LDN, SPHR, director of staff development for Cura Hospitality.
“We have a client group with the desire to address the needs of a huge generation with quite a few individuals in need of memory support,” Santoro says. “From a food provider standpoint, we looked at what we need to do differently in terms of customer service for a population with memory loss.”
“This is an all-encompassing program with training programs at each site to quick-start this strategy. We want them to become Alzheimer’s experts,” Santoro says. “It’s a culture change. In the past, staff would stay in the kitchen and prepare 100 meals. Now, we are seeking to create more of a home-like environment.”
That means slowing things down, at times, she adds.
“We live in a world where we are always looking for efficiencies, but this is one case where the most efficient service model is not always optimal,” Santoro says. For example, the initiative specifies a "90 second rule,” in which a resident is given 90 seconds to answer a question like “Would you like fish or chicken?”
Cards Spark Memories
The task force learned about emotional memory, short- and long-term memory, says Josh Crandall, director of partnership development for Cura Hospitality.
“We asked, 'What can we do around meal time that can tap into emotional memory?' If we can tap into emotions," he continues, people will remember a positive experience, if not exactly what they did.
The memory cards (see photo) used in Connections have old black and white photos of things like holidays or vacations on one side, and conversation-starting questions on the other. There are about 30 cards in all, and they are to be used by staff interacting with residents.
“The cards create an environment where conversation can occur,” Crandall says. “Meaningful conversations at mealtime can carry a resident through the rest of the day.”
During the testing phase, where a few select communities tried the cards, they’ve made a difference, Santoro says.
“At first, the nursing staff said, ‘Oh we already do that. We have conversations with the residents.’ But after trying the cards, they said, ‘These cards are really great. They allow us to really have more meaningful conversations with the residents.’”