A Dallas Retirement Community Reinvents the Dining Experience for its Residents With Dementia

(From left) Executive director Bennie Griffin, executive chef and dining director Tom Schumaker and Thrive chef Curtis MannEXPAND
(From left) Executive director Bennie Griffin, executive chef and dining director Tom Schumaker and Thrive chef Curtis Mann
Windsor Senior Living
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A retirement community is rethinking its nutrition program for residents with dementia.

Watermark Retirement Communities, with locations nationwide, has recently debuted a Thrive Dining program in Dallas that aims to make it easier for people with cognitive challenges to both eat and enjoy their meals.

Dallas’ Windsor Senior Living is one of the pilot Watermark locations to introduce the Thrive Dining program, which executive chef Tom Schumaker is overseeing. In his 45-year career, Schumaker has worked in hotels and the healthcare field. He moved from Virginia a year ago to direct the dining program at Windsor Senior Living.

The goal of the Thrive Dining program is to create an inclusive, sensory experience for residents who are experiencing cognitive challenges.

“As residents go through the life cycle of dementia and Alzheimer's, they lose their dexterity,” Schumaker says. “Thrive Dining allows them to easily eat with their fingers.”

The Thrive Dining menu takes all the elements of the full, traditional menu and recomposes them into gourmet bites.

“You grind the ingredients together, even the proteins and vegetables, and you make a different form,” Schumaker says.

They use three different methods to compose these bites. They can turn elements of the main menu into cupcake form, into a turnover that they then quarter or into balls with dipping sauces.

For example, they take a meal of scrambled eggs and bacon and turn it into breakfast casserole wedges. A pulled pork dinner with mashed potatoes and zucchini is served as pulled pork cupcakes topped with mashed potatoes. Zucchini spears are served on the side.

“‘Thrive’ is what we want our residents to do,” Schumaker says. “It’s more than just a dining program. We have scents that go throughout the room before the meal to signal that it’s time to eat. They eat citrus sorbet in advance of the meal to stimulate the salivary glands. It’s a total experience.”

In addition to the nutritional benefits of Thrive Dining, there are important social advantages to it. Isolation is often an issue with those who have cognitive challenges.

“It’s made dining into a social event again for these residents who are moving through the life cycle,” Schumaker says. “The family members are really appreciative. … It maintains the dignity of the residents. No one wants to see their loved ones be fed. The family members see them integrated, and they don’t stand out. It’s good for everyone.”

They have already found success in the program. Residents on Thrive Dining are eating more and gaining necessary weight.

There are 32 residents in memory care at Windsor Senior Living, and 12 of them are on the Thrive Dining program, but it’s open to everyone in the community.

While this is a pilot location, the goal is to make it a company-wide program at some point in 2020. They see it as a new way of dining that will trickle down into the greater public.

“We’re hoping it will grow through the industry,” Schumaker says.

Curious for yourself? The public is welcome to join a tasting lunch any weekday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Just RSVP with at least two days’ notice to Yolanda Flores, 972-419-4999 ext.12 or yflores@watermarkcommunities.com.

Windsor Senior Living, 7750 Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway (North Dallas), 972-374-9761

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