Each year during the warmer months family and friends look forward to gathering for backyard barbecues. If you've been hesitant to go to a cookout because of your responsibilities as a caregiver, fear not. Both you and your loved one can have a great time if you plan ahead.

First, make sure that the senior you are caring for is in good enough condition, both physically and mentally, to attend. Keep in mind that barbeques and block parties usually involve heat, bugs, noise, smoke from the grill and possibly rambunctious children. For someone with advanced dementia, for example, this kind of gathering can be overstimulating and even scary.

Check with the hosts to ensure they understand and can accommodate your loved one’s limitations. If not, finding respite care so you can attend alone is a viable alternative. Remember, it's important for you to take time to socialize and recharge your batteries.

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If your hosts are amenable and your loved one is up to it, make it an outing you can enjoy together. Joan Wright, a certified geriatric care manager at NVNA and Hospice in Norwell, Massachusetts, reminds caregivers that every elderly person was once young, mobile and eager to socialize. “Those desires are still there even if their physical capacity to fulfill them is not.”

Wright offers some tips to ensure that everyone has a good time while grilling out.

  • Inquire about the menu in advance. Talk to the host or hostess about dietary limitations your loved one may have. If the menu is too salty, fatty or difficult to chew, plan to bring an appropriate BBQ-themed plate or main dish for the senior to eat.
  • Find out what sort of seating will be provided for guests. Backless picnic benches, for example, can be difficult for an elderly person to climb in and out of, and they provide no back support. Ask if you can bring a folding chair or stackable plastic chair to ensure your loved one is comfortable.
  • Make sure the location of the get-together is accessible. If your relative uses a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair or a walker, then slopes, stairs, or other obstacles could be an issue. Ask if your host’s gate to the back yard is wide enough for easy access.
  • If this is a daytime cookout, ask if there is plenty of shade. If not, inquire about bringing a portable beach umbrella or canopy to keep your loved one out of the direct sunlight. Even if there is adequate shade, make sure they apply sunscreen before heading out to the party.
  • Suggest comfortable clothes that include layers. Some seniors feel cold even when it’s warm outside. Select a pair of sturdy shoes to prevent trips and falls. A hat and some sunglasses can complete their outfit and provide additional protection from the sun.
  • If incontinence is an issue for your loved one, make sure to pack plenty of supplies and an extra change of clothes. Keep in mind that some beverages, such as soda, citrus juices, caffeinated drinks and alcohol, can worsen the symptoms of incontinence and overactive bladder. While iced tea, beer and lemonade are classic staples at a barbeque, consider bringing a special drink that meets your loved one’s needs to keep them hydrated and refreshed.
  • Settle in for people watching. Set up a spot for your loved one away from the hot grill and any areas where children are likely to be throwing balls or playing. Having a quiet spot to retreat allows your loved one to rest, if necessary, and enables them to keep an eye on all the hubbub and still feel involved.
  • Find out the location of the closest bathroom. Make sure your loved one is set up close to the facilities. If they need assistance getting to or using the restroom, you might want to arrange a discreet hand sign or code word so you can excuse yourself to help without embarrassment.
  • Bring the conversation to your loved one if they can't get around very well but want to be sociable. Ask partygoers to come over for brief chats. If other guests are tactfully made aware of the senior’s limited mobility, they’re less likely to interpret their lack of mingling as antisocial and more likely to make efforts to include your loved one.
  • Prepare for some down time. If your loved one has difficulty communicating, bring headphones, a CD player and some music. He or she will be able to enjoy the social aspect of the cookout without feeling pressured to converse the whole time.
  • Make sure a glass of water is always at hand. This is especially important at daytime cookouts since the sun and heat can have surprisingly strong dehydrating effects.
  • Get ready to dig in! If some of the dishes must be adapted so your loved one can eat them, such as separating meat from bones or cutting corn off the cob, do it in the kitchen and then bring the plate back outside. Cutting up food in front of other partygoers puts the senior in an embarrassing, child-like position.
  • The heat, sun, activity, and noise of a backyard party can be tiring. Watch your loved one carefully for signs of restlessness, fatigue, overheating or other distress, and be prepared to leave before the festivities end if necessary.

It is beneficial for both caregivers and seniors to get outside and socialize. With a little planning, a casual backyard barbeque is the perfect way to enjoy some fresh air, tasty food and good company.