Each year during the warmer months, family and friends look forward to gathering for backyard barbecues. This year, especially, families are eager to rebound from the loneliness and isolation of COVID-19 restrictions. The CDC has given fully vaccinated seniors the all clear to safely reconnect at family gatherings. However, practicing healthy hygiene and avoiding anyone with recent illness is still important for elders with any underlying condition.
Whether planning for the 4th of July or a simple weekend in the backyard, if you’ve been hesitant to go to a cookout because of your responsibilities as a caregiver– fear not. Both you and your aging loved one can have a great time if you plan ahead.
First, make sure the person you are caring for is in good enough condition, both physically and mentally, to attend. Keep in mind that barbecues and block parties usually involve heat, bugs, noise, smoke from the grill and possibly rambunctious children. Someone with moderate or severe dementia, for example, may find this kind of gathering overstimulating or even scary.
Check with the host to ensure they understand and can accommodate your loved one’s needs. 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.
If your host is amenable and your loved one is up to it, make the event an outing you can enjoy together. Don't hesitate to ask for help, as ultimately all of the generations benefit from making the effort to safely include elders in family gatherings. Joan Wright, CDP, CADDCT, a dementia caregiving specialist based in Marshfield, Mass., 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,” she encourages.
Wright offers the following tips for ensuring that everyone has a good time while grilling out this summer.
How to Make Summer Barbecues Senior Friendly
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 some sides or a main dish that meets their needs.
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 will be 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.Some seniors feel cold even when it’s warm outside. Dressing in layers allows them to put on or take off clothing items as temperatures and their comfort level change. Select a pair of sturdy shoes to prevent trips and falls while outside. 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 barbecue, consider bringing a special drink that meets your loved one’s needs to keep them hydrated and help avoid accidents.
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 running around. Having a quiet spot to retreat to allows your loved one to rest, if necessary, and enables them to keep an eye on all the hubbub and still feel involved.
Find 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 a quiet activity like knitting, a photo album or 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 barbecue is the perfect way to enjoy some fresh air, tasty food and good company. If the get-togethers that friends and family have planned this summer aren’t the best fit for you and your loved one, then consider planning your own senior-friendly cookout.