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SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Seeking Flutherite opinions -- How would you handle this sad family matter?

Asked by SadieMartinPaul (8694 points ) January 21st, 2013

If you know me at Fluther, you know that my mother is in the sixth of Alzheimer’s seven stages. Although she’s often confused and has lost almost all of her short-term and long-term memory, she remains very friendly and social. She has retained all of her vocabulary, and she has lucid conversations.

Sadly, she’s developed some nauseating table manners. There’s no need to be graphic here. Let’s just say that her behavior is truly revolting, and that she won’t stop.

Mom loves going to restaurants. She enjoys trying different meals, interacting with the server, and watching the people around her. A restaurant meal is a very good thing for Mom.

Because of her manners, however, I haven’t taken her to a restaurant in ages. Other patrons make plans, and pay good money, to have a nice dining experience. I don’t think it’s fair to expose them to Mom’s stomach-turning habits.

What do you think?

(1) I’ve made the right choice. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, and Mom’s decline can’t be helped, so I just need to adjust as her disease progresses. When she can no longer walk, I’ll help her with a wheelchair; now that her table manners are bad, she should eat at home.

(2) The heck with other restaurant patrons. There’s no predicting how much longer Mom will be capable of eating out, so I should let her enjoy some restaurant meals.

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28 Answers

janbb's avatar

I have personal issues with shame around behavior and calling attention to myself in public so I would not be able to go with her to a restaurant. My mother didn’t have that problem but was often very tactless in public and I couldn’t stand it. Are things like picnics a possibility?

Sunny2's avatar

Many good restaurants will prepare a special meal to go. Call to explain the situation and see if they’ll do one for you.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Ask a restaurant if they would be willing to take you after hours or something like that, failing that I say go for it and just go to the restaurant. The worst that happens is you get kicked out, and the next day she probably wont even remember she was kicked out.

If some kid gets to sit there and cry all during the meal, and some other guy gets to sit there and babble his nonsense within earshot, with his friends with their mobile phones, then I don’t see why some bad table manners are a problem.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Perhaps you can find or patronize restaurants that offer private dining areas.

nikipedia's avatar

Can you get some nice takeout and take her for a weekly picnic?

Yeahright's avatar

Choose a restaurant that is not too crowded (some locations like malls are bound to be very busy at all times). Go at odd hours when there aren’t that many people and ask for seating arrangements in a corner or somewhere that you will not be seen by that many people. Explain the situation to the waiters ahead of time and check how they feel about the whole situation. They might come up with suggestions, you never know. Depriving her of one of the very few things that she probably still enjoys and is still physically able to do doesn’t seem too fair and when the time comes that she’s gone you will never forgive yourself for not going the extra mile for her.

Bellatrix's avatar

What is it she likes about the experience? The food or being out and about and around people? If it’s the first option, takeaway food would make more sense. If it’s the latter speak to the restaurant owners about when is a quiet time and seating you in a tucked away part of the restaurant. That way you are minimising the embarrassment but still allowing your mother her little joy. Picnics and the like as have been suggested would be another option or perhaps inviting people over to your house (trusted people) for dinner.

burntbonez's avatar

I think that some restaurants are willing to make special accommodations for “special” people. Like people with various illnesses that make them spastic or unable to control themselves. I would call up a favorite and ask if there is something they would be willing to do. You’d want to set up a table in a private area, and the wait staff would be warned and willing to play along.

CWOTUS's avatar

Go to the restaurant. Take her out.

I don’t know how old you are, but when I got to be middle-aged I finally learned something that I wished that I had learned in my teens:

1. Few people notice.
2. Most of those who notice won’t care.
3. The few who notice and care can make allowances and ignore.

I’m going through the same sort of thing with my uncle. He can barely walk. He can barely hear. When we walk in the door and the hostess greets us… he places an order as we’re walking to the table. When the busboy comes to give us water he repeats the order. When the waitress comes to give us menus he repeats it again. When the waitress takes our order he complains because “the place is so busy, we’ll never get our food”.

He does everything loudly because he can’t hear. He talks about people in the restaurant – not always complimentary (oh, hell, hardly ever that) – and everyone hears. When I sit across from him I cannot stand to watch him eat. The truth is, no one else seems to care.

But he enjoys getting out of the house, and sitting to eat a meal is one of the few things he can still do. So we do that. You can do it, too.

JLeslie's avatar

I think you are right to not want to disturb other customers at the restaurant. Some suggestions above I think are good. Maybe go off hours, between lunch and dinner, and see if they will put your family in a section that they can keep private for you since it is inbetween hours. Large restaurants would be most likely to be able to accomadate this. Call ahead and explain your situation. If your mom makes a mess at the table, then it might be too much to ask a restaurant to clean up a bad mess after her. Although, I am stunned at what people leave behind and drop on the floor and just leave it all a horrible mess.

Unbroken's avatar

It is unusual for alzheimer victims to not be intimidated or overwhelmed by bigger atmospheres.

I think you are the one who has to live with your decision. There is no right or wrong.

Maybe if you separate the two completely. Good food, take out or homemade meals that she can eat later.

Conversing with people at parks or quiet plays small local art shows or something.

YARNLADY's avatar

When we had an issue with our toddler, we chose parts of the restaurant that were as private as possible.

Shippy's avatar

If it really upsets you, it’s not worth it. Stress is a terrible thing and can cause you more issues.

For me, I used to take them. People could see they were old, and we would sit in an obscure seat. Away from the mainstream crowd. My dad would take his teeth out, and put them on the table, food fell everywhere, on his lap and seat. Just to name a few things. When they became less mobile I stopped. Well my dad died so I was left with my mom. I still took her to restaurants, and my mom would shout at a few people how pretty they were, then she would get up and dance. I felt so upset by it all, I called some friends. Who came and danced with her, and kept me calm. I still have the photo’s of this day. I have to say it was one of my last great memories of her. My friend David also danced with her to the car. He has become quite famous in SA, and shows this video to everyone. He loves it. (He didn’t become famous for that of course loll).

It’s up to you though, and what you can handle. But like I said before laughter is the best medicine. Try see the funny side of it. Or the fun side of it.

deni's avatar

I think you should be candid with the restaurants simply because you need to make your mom happy for however much longer she has left. You talk about eating out like it really brings her a lot of joy…why deprive her of that? Call ahead and ask if you can get a table in a less crowded section of the restaurant, or when are they the least busy? Maybe you could go then. If someone called the place I worked and explained this situation I would do anything to acommodate them.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Thank you, everyone, for being understanding and offering such well-thought ideas.

Mom’s new habits are so disgusting, it’s impossible for me to watch. I often have a meal with her at her (fabulous) retirement facility or at my home. When she goes into her predictible routine, I need to look away so that I don’t get sick to my stomach.

I like the thoughts about occasionally bringing her to restaurants during off-hours, when there are no other dining patrons. For example, if she has a 3:00 pm appointment at the beauty parlor, I can take her, after, for an early supper while the restaurant’s still empty. She won’t get the pleasure of being among and watching other diners, but she’ll at least get a nice sandwich and the restaurant experience. And, if I choose a place that sits on a sidewalk and has passersby outside, she can enjoy seeing those people.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin May I ask what these supposed revolting table manners are? I think that would help in answering the question.

Getting food everywhere and smacking while chewing vs. taking her top off at the dinner table makes all the difference.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I wasn’t going to describe the details. But, if you really believe that the information will be helpful, I’ll do so.

Mom picks her teeth, and not in any subtle manner. She puts her fingers in her mouth, pulls her lips out of shape, and goes rooting around in front of and behind her teeth. When she pulls out a piece of food, she stares at it on her finger, as if it were some sort of prize, and then smears it on her plate.

She also does things that aren’t nearly as severe and that I can live with. My description of the teeth-picking, however, really isn’t adequate; the reality is much more disgusting than my words can be.

Shippy's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I just want to say to you, It’s OK, it’s not unusual. And also to give you a hug.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Thank you, @Shippy. Yes, I do know that it isn’t unusual; as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the patient often regresses into childish behavior while losing the affect and maners of an adult. I can’t change the world and Mom’s reality, so I’m trying to figure out how to cope and manage.

janbb's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin My Dad was also a really gross eater in the last years of his life and we rarely would eat with him in the main dining room of their place. I think you have to honor what you are able to tolerate and find ways for her to get her pleasures that don’t repulse you. If you can separate the eating pleasure from her pleasure in people watching, it might work for both of you.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I say if they don’t like it they don’t have to look, just like the rest of us. My number one priority would be to make my mom’s last years as pleasureable for her as possible.

People wear inappropriate clothing, they have crying babies screaming through every course, they have germy toddlers turned around staring at you the whole time, teens being loud and ignorant, it’s a crap shoot anytime you go out and we all know that.

Unbroken's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I was picturing food throwing, dumping drinks in plate, finger painting with food. Eating the centerpiece. This may not be much of a comfort but it could be worse.

Another option you could try is soft foods or ask for slightly ground. Soups, chili, tender potroasts. Bring dental picks and redirect.

Barring that if it makes you uncomfortable there is no shame in finding alternate activities. I think this is partly about you and how you want to remember your mother. One would hope for the best type of memories and try to avoid the ones that repulse you. This isn’t selfish. Your relationship continues after death in your memories and how you reflect her.

Just my opinion but if you are dreading your next visit or whats to come it is hard to focus on what she can offer.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

You Flutherites answered my question with so much wisdom, care, and compassion. I sincerely thank all of you.

You’ve taught me something that I’d been incapable of understanding—that I need to separate the two experiences of (1) new, interesting food and (2) interacting with/watching people.

I can take Mom to restaurants, between meals during the off-hours, and ask for isolated tables. I can continue to invite Mom to my house for meals, which I’ll cook specially for her. I can get some delicious carry-out and bring it to her studio apartment; she has a lovely kitchenette, which I’ve stocked with dishes, silverware, and glassware.

For seeing new and different people, there are trips to the beauty parlor, shopping, sitting in a park (after spring arrives), etc.

Yes, I now comprehend that I can make Mom happy, and fulfill her needs, without any scoldings or lectures about keeping one’s fingers out of one’s mouth. :-)

KNOWITALL's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin Bless you for helping your mom, even if it is a little embarassing. I’m sure there are people in the world who just write them off when it’s too much. :(

janbb's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin Yay you! Yes!!

JLeslie's avatar

I think one question worth asking is, “would your mom want to be seen acting that way in a restaurant?” It honors her to not let her embarass herself in a way she would be mortified by.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@KNOWITALL You do, indeed, know quite a bit. (Maybe not “all,” but a whole lot!) Although I have my sad and frustrating moments, it really is a privilege to see Mom every day and spend these final times with her. That’s my Mommy…the woman who stayed up with me at night, changed and washed my diapers (there were no disposables back in those days), and loved me unconditionally. All I want to do is give back.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I just went through a little bit of this last year when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She looked half dead, already was bi-polar/ depressed, but we got through it as you will. :) Peace be with you both.

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