June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. According to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, 120,000 people in Massachusetts who are over the age of 65 live with the disease.
One Massachusetts restaurant is leading the way for families dealing with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not through research or fundraising, it’s through a routine dinner reservation. Red Raven restaurant in Acton is one restaurant using Purple Table Reservations to make life easier for some families.
Sam Sexer and her mother are enjoying a healthy lunch in a beautiful setting at Red Raven. Sexer said she always gives her mom the window seat to look out at the lake. It may seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but it means the world to Sexer. Her mother, Julie, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so going out to eat has become more difficult.
“I tried to look for other restaurants and I had kind of given up a bit, so to hear about this place and the reservation was great for us," Sam Sexer said.
The reservation is called Purple Table and was created by the Red Raven restaurant owner Jenifer Apazidis, who explained how the reservations work.
“Someone can call up, make a Purple Table reservation, and that reservation flag basically tells us that someone is coming in that may be living with Alzheimer’s, living with dementia, have a child with autism, so basically someone in that party might need a little extra care and attention and patience while we are serving them," Apazidis said.
That means seating families in a quiet area of the restaurant and servers exercising patience to repeat menu items more than once. Apazidis says the staff have been trained to approach the table a little differently, to speak patiently and to not clang plates at the table. She says the idea came out of her own experience.
“My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her late 50s and one of her favorite things to do was go out to eat," Apazidis said. "We found that as her disease progressed, it was really difficult for her to go out to eat and communicate with the servers.”
Apazidis and her family stopped going out as a result, but she didn’t believe that was a good solution for her family or others, so she started Purple Table Reservations. One of the specially-trained servers is Jackson Shoults, who says he enjoys it.
“It’s just any folks that might need a little extra amenities when they go out to eat, whether that’s time, attention, caring, explaining, you know, whatever it may be," he said. "So working with them, it’s just going the extra mile.”
Shoults says the biggest part of his training is patience, which goes a long way for the families.
“Usually they are very happy to go out and be able to do something that some people might find normal and mundane, but for them it’s a little bit special," he said.
For Sam Sexer and her mom Julie, a nice time out to eat makes life a little easier after a tough diagnosis. Sexer explained why.
“To kind of feel at peace, to be able to come out and not just have to go to a fast food-type place, to feel a little more comfortable," Sexer said.
Purple is significant because Alzheimer's disease awareness is represented by the color purple. There are plans to create a national model for Purple Table Reservations that restaurants across the country can adopt.