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Setting the Table in a Multigenerational Home

Hi! My name is Lisa Cini and I’m the Founder, President and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio, an award-winning design firm in Columbus, OH. For the past 25 years, our company has been designing warm, beautiful and inviting assisted living homes for seniors.

However, just because I design beautiful spaces for seniors, that isn’t the way that my family has decided to do things.

In my family, we have 4 generations that are living together under one roof. My 92-year old grandmother who was diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer’s represents one of these generations. Although we could have decided to move her into a type of setting that provides excellent care for seniors, we knew early on that as a family, there must be a way for us to keep her loved, safe, and with us all at the same time.

In dealing with grandma’s challenges surrounding her dementia, we’ve developed a lot of different ways to help keep her feeling secure and to help her orient herself in her daily surroundings.

The Powers Of The Tablecloth

My grandmother and my mother believed that a tablecloth was an essential item in the dining room. For this reason, we would always keep a tablecloth on our table no matter the season of the year.

Normally, we’d put placemats on top of the tablecloth during breakfast and lunch. However at dinnertime, we don’t use placemats and just allow the tablecloth to stand-alone. We noticed how Grandma struggled with her plate and how she tried to keep it from slipping around. As a result, we have decided to put placemats even at dinnertime. Not only did it help my Grandma in holding her plate while she eats, it also stopped her from feeling like she’s the odd one out.

Season-Themed Placemats

Another thing that makes our dining room unique are the season-themed placemats. It’s a unique idea of my mothers, which turned out to be a great plus for Grandma. These placemats help in orienting my Grandma about the seasons and holidays as well as helping her be aware of what time it is in the year. Using the placemats also allowed her to do her “job” – which is setting the table. This activity also helps her brain receive the cue that “it’s time to eat.”

The Timely Centerpiece

Similar to our tablecloth, we also like to keep a centerpiece on the table at all times. Just as the placemats cue my Grandma and give her an idea of the seasons, the centerpiece has the same effect. Whenever my Grandma would see the centerpiece while setting or clearing the table, she would be reminded of the time of year. Our centerpieces have various themes such as Easter, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween. The Fall centerpiece, as designed by my mother, will have candles, pine cones and pretty colored leaves. There’s also a Spring centerpiece with fresh flowers and a large ceramic piece that contains woven lettuce, cabbage, eggplants, carrots, etc.

Visual Cueing Can Help Your Memory

People who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s/Dementia mostly depend on their visual environment to understand the world around them. It helps a great deal whenever they tie their present surroundings with their past knowledge or those that they grew up with. An example of this is if you have ever driven somewhere and you know the way but they tore down the landmark building that you turned at. It can be confusing because we use visual cueing for approximately 80% of our information. For my Grandma, its even more critical to have proper cueing.

The things that are familiar to her which remain vivid in her mind include growing up in a town called Ghent in southern West Virginia; having vegetable gardens and orchards of fruit trees; seeing beautiful flowers everywhere; and sitting down to family style meals where the table was always full of food that was produced on their land. Seeing those aspects in the dining room enables her mind to think, “It’s time to eat.” While it is not complicated, it’s still wonderful to know how simple things can help my Grandma a lot.

The Dining Room Table

Grandma’s generation regards the dining room table as that spot where the family would do its business. It’s where they would sit down and listen to the stories of her brothers after returning from war. It’s where they experience all of life’s dramas and hilarity in just one sitting.

In my mom’s generation, buying your first dining table is considered as a big deal. Mom and dad had a large pedestal table, which they were really fond of. However, it was too unstable particularly when the table was leaned on. Seniors will often use whatever is in front of them to lean on when standing. Mom’s table wasn’t stable enough, so we couldn’t use it.

In the end, I bought a table that was really sturdy. You can stand up on it, lean on it and not worry about getting a seesaw effect.

Armchairs vs. Armless Chairs

When choosing chairs based on their comfort level, nothing beats ones that have cushions as well as arms. For the elderly, armchairs help them when they need to take a seat, stand up from sitting, and get out of the chair. They can use the chair’s arms when they need to hold on to something and steady themselves.

Hold That Rug On The Floor

Underneath the rug in our dining room, we have placed a very good rug holder to prevent a potential tripping, walking, or falling hazard. You can also use Velcro or rug tape to hold the rug in place. Make sure that every single spot is hazard-free to keep your loved one safe.

Turn Up The Lights

While most of the lights in the Dining Room are on dimmers, we always make sure that they are bright enough for Grandma to see her plate and her food. There are times when my mom would like to have candles but I just tell her that we still need to turn up the lights.

Being part of a family where multiple generations can gather for meals at the dinning table is special. Whether its regular Sunday dinners or if this only happens around the Holidays, the time together is important. Regardless of your family situation, all of the above can help your treasured elders feel valued.

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Lisa Cini

Lisa M. Cini is the Founder, President and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio. A global commercial design, project management and procurement company, Mosaic’s mission is to "Improve Quality of Life By Design." Lisa is regarded as the leading Alzheimer's and long-term care design expert in the nation, and has been recognized for her contributions in the field. Lisa is most gratified by helping people who are struggling with Alzheimer’s, find ways to cope as individuals, as families, and as communities.

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