Setting the table for success in senior dining with dementia and dignity

Cura Hospitality’s relaunched memory care program, Connections Memory Support Dining, resets the table with latest tools in helping memory-impaired residents reclaim mealtime. Plus: How a Cura senior dining team hits the ground running in a new location
Chef Lance Franklin holding pureed and non-pureed dishes.
Chef Lance Franklin, holding a non-pureed turkey dish and a pureed one, has worked in healthcare for about 10 years, and is now enjoying the personal connections and healing power found in senior dining. Photos courtesy of Cura Hospitality

Connections Memory Support Dining is Cura Hospitality’s signature program designed to support memory-impaired residents to dine with dignity. Connections was initially introduced about a decade ago, so this relaunch is backed up with new research, testing and real-life experience from Cura’s clinical and culinary teams.

Some highlights of the relaunched program include aromatherapy in the form of crockpots, heartfelt connections happening with 5x8 conversation-starter cards with retro themes, recipes for “walking finger food” and pureed entrees piped and plated to look whole.

Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are so common for seniors, (as of 2023, 6.7 million people age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s) and the numbers are already going up, with the Baby Boomer generation getting older. Success on the memory care dining front is defined by Cura’s Corporate Director, Menu Management Kate Munson, MS, RDN, LD in terms of fuel for the body and soul of senior residents and what happens when the dining team can truly engage with them. “Our vision for memory support dining is that we will provide a pleasurable dining experience and improved nutrition intake for our residents in life plan communities,” Munson said in a statement. “Cura’s teams are dedicated and sincere in finding innovative ways to serve these residents with personalized care, dignity and compassion.”

When the program is implemented, residents are offered a few ways to make dining with dementia as positive of an experience as possible.

Turkey a la King as a regular menu item at Bristol










Turkey a la King as a regular menu item at Bristol                                       

  The components of Connections

Since Alzheimer’s affects short-term memory first, bringing long-term memories into the conversation can be a great way to spend mealtimes. The program’s Conversation Starters, 5x8 cards, feature universal memories like family holidays, sports, cooking, military, occupations and more, with a series of related questions printed on the card for a staff member to ask the resident. This spark of conversation and (hopefully) pleasant memories is the type of “connection” the Connections program aims for.

Another tool: Aromatherapy. Since appetite can be scant for many seniors and especially those with dementia, the Connections program features a few crockpot recipes, designed to simmer away for an hour or so to naturally get appetites working. A cozy beef stew or a tray of cookies can truly go a long way.

The two main culinary components of Connections are the Walking Finger Food program and the puree program. As the name suggests, the Walking Finger Food program provides nutritious snacks that can be consumed on the go, since not being able to sit for long periods and/or wandering around are both hallmarks of dementia. The walking snacks include handheld items like pretzel rod skewers, stuffed pasta pockets with protein-packed fillings, sliders, chicken tacos, flatbreads and hummus-filled pitas.

Turkey a la King as a pureed item at Bristol



 Turkey a la King as a pureed item at Bristol. 

 The puree program meets the challenges of residents experiencing dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), a common symptom of Alhzheimer’s. Connections’ goal is to recreate a pureed version of whatever is on the regular menu that day, such as items from the grill, deli sandwiches, fish, desserts and more. There’s a true art form to pureed food for senior dining, and an attractive presentation is vital for getting seniors to eat.

Connections also features standards for setting the table, literally. As Alzheimer’s progresses, vision and depth perception decline. That means choosing the right colors and shapes can make a positive—or negative—impact on the resident.

How a senior dining crew hits the ground running in a new location

When a new foodservice management company takes over at a senior living facility, there are quite a few changes that happen right away, and others that take some time to build. The Connections memory care program is part of it all.

Last month, Cura Hospitality became the foodservice partner at The Rehab Center and Memory Care at Bristol, a 120-bed community with skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and assisted living memory care specialization.

Looking first at menu changes, the buzzwords seem to be “fresh, healthy, comforting and resident-focused.” The Handcrafted Delights program replaces chemically enhanced juices with real, whole foods. Working with Cura dietitians, the culinary team has introduced new recipes and “reinvented the wheel” with the puree program, making everything from scratch, improving the flavor and plating the items in a nice way.

To Executive Chef Lance Franklin, getting a baseline and feedback was a natural first step at Bristol. “It’s been a mixed bag of observing people, taking notes and communication,” he says. “We did a baseline survey to gauge where the account was.”

Feedback is especially important in this dining setting, Franklin says, “because we’re working in their home. Walking the floors, engaging with the residents; it’s important to do that because then the staff can relate to the residents. We delivered grilled cheese and tomato soup to a resident and she said, ‘Oh, I must be important.’ And at the same time, we said ‘You are important!’”

While his background is in Southern comfort cuisine, “it’s not necessarily that we do classic New Orleans dishes,” Franklin says. “But we do bring that down-home, really good food approach. And Cura mirrors that.”

“One example is how we decided to end our first weekend,” he adds. “Old-school chicken and dumplings with pulled chicken meat, veggies and a rich, creamy chicken broth over a biscuit with fresh parsley for garnish. Our residents really enjoyed it.

In implementing the Connections memory care program with continued training and check-ins, District Manager Jonathan Robinson says the goal is to address “the biggest struggle [which is] having them remember their favorite foods. We take for granted that we can just pull open that file cabinet of memories. Like, I know what Thanksgiving dinner is going to smell and taste like. There is a population on this earth where that’s limited.”

“You have to bring their memories back with food,” Franklin says.



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