Occasionally, I have the impression that there are some people who wonder why we always eat out for lunch and dinner. I suspect there are several things that make them feel this way. It is cheaper to eat at home. It is also easier to eat nutritionally at home. There is just something nice about eating in the comfort of your own home, especially in bad weather. I acknowledge all of these things, and I am sure one could argue for more benefits. On the other hand, the longer we have done this, the stronger my belief is that eating out has been one of the wisest decisions we have made. It has little or nothing to do with the objective of eating a meal. It is for the social contact that it has provided us. Take today’s lunch for example.
We ate at Carla’s Trattoria today as we do almost every Tuesday. We now know the hostess as well as several of the servers. Josh is our regular server. When he is not there, we ask for Morgan, his girl friend. That is what we did today. Since they are familiar with us, we have brief conversations depending on how busy they are. Mike knows that we come in on Tuesday and had told Morgan to take good care of us. Near the end of the meal, she asked us if we had tried their cherry gelato. We told her we had. Then she let us know she was bringing a serving to us “on the house.” Kate and I both love desserts, and this was good gelato.
Then a couple of women we know dropped by our table to say hello. One is a member of our music club. The other is the wife of a retired Lutheran bishop who is a member of my Rotary club. We had a nice chat. Then as we walked outside we bumped into a young couple who have recently joined our church. The husband is a past president of our Rotary club. We talked briefly before getting in the car and returning to the house.
This is a rather typical mealtime experience. It wasn’t the meals we had or the gelato that made this a happy time for us. It was the engagement with other people. I can’t say that we always see people we know when we eat out although it does occur frequently. In a city the size of Knoxville, it is hard to go many places without seeing at least one person you know. Even when we don’t know other customers, we do know the servers and often the managers or owners of the restaurants.
I don’t mean to suggest that eating out is something I would necessarily recommend to other people who are living with Alzheimer’s. It isn’t practical for everyone. Kate and I both enjoy being socially active. We are both energized by being with other people. That is especially true for me. My own experience and what I have heard from others leads me to think that it is very easy for a couple in our shoes to become socially isolated. I think that when people are aware that a couple is going through a disease like this one, they tend to be unsure how to respond. This can lead toward fewer invitations out. In addition, a couple like us may accept fewer invitations to events that involve large crowds that can be intimidating to the person with dementia. I certainly see that with Kate.
Kate has faced a special problem. Since we moved to Knoxville forty-six years ago, she has had four very close friends. One of them died in an accident in the mid-1980s. Two others moved out of state. The fourth, Ellen, had a stroke two years ago this past August. Since then she has lived in an assisted living facility in Nashville where she was visiting her daughter when she had the stroke. We try to get there about once a month except for the two to three months after her stroke and another four months after she suffered a couple of seizures earlier this year. She is now in memory care in the early stages of vascular dementia. Ellen is still the only person with whom Kate has shared the news of her diagnosis. They were very close. Losing her last close friend here in Knoxville has had quite an impact on Kate.
For these reasons, the social contact we have by eating out has been very supportive for both of us. As I suggested above, the value of it has far exceeded anything I could have imagined when we began this practice. It has really enhanced the quality of our lives.