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Valley Stream author helps people living with dementia "dine with dignity"

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With her new book hot off the press, Valley Stream resident Toni Fisk seeks to help people with “Unlocking the Mystery of Dementia and Dining.” Following two years of writing and research, the book is meant to serve as a comprehensive resource and tool for those who are caring for loved ones living with dementia.

“The book came to me easily because the material was near and dear to me,” Fisk said of writing her first book. She noted that she had three main objectives while she was writing. Her goals were to educate the reader about dementia, provide knowledge concerning nutrition and the art of eating, and teach caretakers how to care for themselves while caring for a person with dementia at the same time.   

Fisk has wide-ranging, first-hand experience on the subject covered in her book. Having worked in the healthcare and senior living field for more than 30 years, she said began her own company, DinnerWEARhc, Inc. three years ago because she grew tired of the corporate structure.

“It was just cookie cutter and it wasn’t really addressing the challenges that were happening in the communities,” Fisk said. She noted it was frustrating that these companies did not provide much training to address the different set of care required when working with people living with dementia.

Driven by her passion to help educate those caring for people living with dementia, Fisk obtained various certifications over the years, qualifying her as a care professional, trainer, and food protection professional. She currently serves as a consultant for dining groups that work with senior living communities nationwide. Fisk assists with their dining programs by providing staff training, making suggestions regarding the environment and recommending changes concerning food preparation. She also gives presentations and conducts workshops on the subject at skilled nursing facilities.

Cullen Dykas, operations manager for a food services company that contracts with assisted living facilities, attended one of Fisk’s presentations. He remarked that the information Fisk provided helped him to interact with residents in the community better.

“She has a lot of knowledge,” Dykas said of Fisk, adding that he respected her approach to the subject.

The recently released book provides answers to many of the common questions caregivers might have while caring for a person living with dementia, and can help them to understand their loved one’s actions. It also offers tips on nutrition, overcoming challenges at mealtime, menu ideas, and self-care suggestions.

“It’s light reading, but it’s deep reading,” Fisk said she didn’t use technical language in her book, but chose to speak through her own voice. “There will be a lot of ‘ah-hah’ moments that the reader will get from it and say ‘that’s why that happened,’ or ‘I didn’t know that — I wish I’d known that before.’”

Maria Perisi, director of culinary services at Cranberry Park at Shore Point in Michigan said Fisk’s book has not only been helpful to her professionally, but also personally. After reading the book, she said she made several changes to the dining program at the assisted living community where she works. She added that the book has also helped educate her mother’s caregiver.

“This book doesn’t just help in the feeding. It helps in the general care. . . . You have to realize that you have to be patient and kind. A lot of people want to approach things clinically. . .” Perisi said the compassion that should be set forth in caring for people with dementia comes through clearly in the book. “This is caring for people, instead of taking care of people.”

Fisk said she also hopes her book helps caretakers preserve the dignity of their loved ones and understand that inside they are still the same people they once knew.   

“These people have histories, they had lives. They had families. They had businesses. . . . They served in the military and defended us,” Fisk said. “So don’t ever forget that people with dementia are people, and they had lives.”

Fisk’s book “#dinewithdignity: Unlocking the Mystery of Dining with Dementia” is available through Amazon and Fisk’s website at https://dinnerwearhc.info/book/