by Joan Cary November 18, 2022USAEating Out AgainIsolation is just one of the many challenges faced by dementia patients and their caregivers, and Oviedo-Winter Springs Lion Dennis Dulniak who spent seven years caring for his wife, Nancy, knows that all too well.Dennis was inspired to create dementia-friendly dining spots after caring for his wife, Nancy, through her illness.Although Nancy suffered from Early Onset Alzheimer’s and died in 2021 at age 69, Dulniak is spending his retirement honoring her and helping others who find themselves in a similar situation. In 2020, he founded Dementia-friendly Dining in central Florida, working with restaurants to help them offer their service to dementia patients and their caregivers.“Although it is not directly a Lions program, I see this as an extension of my service ethic. As Lions, we serve,” says Dulniak. “The recognition for this has far exceeded my expectations. It’s a wonderful thing.”With compassionate staff and space like a side or back room to get away from the buzz of a crowd, the restaurants offer a safe, enjoyable way for caregivers and family members to take those with dementia out for a meal. Four central Florida restaurants are now offering this service, and Dulniak is eager to share the idea with others. It’s not the food these customers need so badly. It’s everything that comes with eating out — freedom, socialization, and a time to make happy memories.“Dementia-friendly Dining allows family to take part in normal activities with their loved one, taking a break from the daily struggles,” says Dulniak. For the patient it provides stimulation and socialization.Dennis and Nancy enjoyed dining out in their 47-year marriage. Even in the early stages of the disease she helped other dementia victims and supported his efforts. When her own health declined, and she had to move to a memory care facility, Dennis continued to take his wife out for lunch or treats.She loved it.In central Florida, his plan was first adopted by The Meatball Shoppe, a family restaurant in Orlando. Soon after, COVID restrictions made dining out impossible, and plans to grow the program were put on hold. Now, back to business and teamed with Certified Caregiving Consultant Toni Gitles, Dulniak has resumed his effort to expand awareness and encourage others to help make their communities more dementia friendly.He and Gitles train restaurant staff who wear Dementia-friendly Dining buttons and are taught ways to make these special guests more comfortable.His advice: Smile. Smile. Smile. Make eye contact and speak clearly and slowly as dementia patients process slower. Serve water immediately. Clear tables of all unnecessary items. Offer just two food selections, and always serve from the front so as not to distract or alarm the guest.“Those in the early stages of dementia enjoy it. And they do well,” Dulniak says. “And the idea is transferable anywhere. I would love to share this idea with other communities. If Lions think this is a great way of supporting their community, I’m all for supporting that.”In another effort, Dulniak, 71, and his sons, Mark and Craig, honor the memory of Nancy, a lifelong librarian, through Nana’s Books Foundation (nanasbooks.org) a non-profit that supplies grade-appropriate books on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other disabilities to public libraries and students in Title I schools.In its first year they sent 846 books to her hometown school and the public school in Granville, N.Y. This year they are sending books to five schools around the country.“We’re sharing information about Alzheimer’s and the need to understand that caregiving is essential. We want to teach children that their grandparents aren’t stupid. They can’t remember their names because they have a disease,” Dulniak says.“We’re working on kindness, compassion, and acceptance. This is what I’m doing, and if that doesn’t keep me busy until my last breath, I don’t know what will.” Contact Dulniak at email@example.com or through his website: www.centralfloridadementia-friendlydining.com.