How Sinceri, Senior Lifestyle are Setting a Higher Standard for Memory Care Dining

Memory care operators are retooling their culinary programs to emphasize personalization, engagement g and education, all in an effort to set a higher standard for their residents.

While coming up with a culinary program that senior living residents like and enjoy is already a challenge, it is even more so in memory care due to the product type’s care-intensive nature.

But while memory care residents need a higher level of care than others, that doesn’t mean they don’t want familiar flavors or healthy ingredients. Before coming up with a memory care dining program, it’s important to understand the needs, and tastes of every resident in the community, according to David Cyplik, corporate director of dining services for Senior Lifestyles.


Senior Lifestyle in 2015 rolled out a memory care program called Embrace that was meant to prioritize the residents’ individuality within their care plans, including the kind of food they like to eat.

“Within our Embrace program, we have what’s called ’embrace history’ where we dig as much as we can to learn about the residents — what they like and what they dislike and what brings them back,” Cyplike said during a panel discussion at the 2022 inaugural BRAIN conference in Chicago.

For Tumwater, Washington-based Sinceri Senior Living, a resident’s unique story also carries weight in their dining needs and services, according to Takeiah Sadler, area program director of Sinceri Senior Living.


“Not only do we want to know their life stories, their hobbies, interests and all of those great things to share with our programming teams, but also their favorite foods,” Sadler said at BRAIN.

Have it your way

For Sinceri and Senior Lifestyle, coming up with a memory care resident’s meal plan starts even before a resident has moved in. The operators both spend time with families to collect information on residents, such as what they like to eat — or don’t like to eat..

For example, if a memory care resident in one of Sinceri’s 77 communities doesn’t like spaghetti, “and we serve spaghetti that night and didn’t offer an alternative and that resident doesn’t eat their meal, now what?” Sadler said.

Geography can play a role in resident personalization, he added. For example, Sadler said he lives in South Carolina, where people “eat differently.” Knowing where a resident is from can help culinarians prepare food that might be comforting to them, such as fried chicken or clam chowder.

Likewise, Senior Lifestyle works with a handful of chefs located throughout the country to create regionalized menus that are used throughout Senior Lifestyle’s portfolio of TK communities.

“In the South, it’s going to be different than what you would have in the Midwest [which] will be very different than what you’re going to have on the East Coast,” Cyplik said.

Even when operators don’t know their residents’ history or upbringing, it’s still worth working in foods that they might like to eat, according to Cyplik.

“As people, we’re not going to like everything that we eat or everything that we try,” he said. “So, a lot of the time, it’s having the courage to try something to see if we do like it.”

Operators should not only pay attention to what residents eat, but also how they do so. And if a resident seems to be struggling with a certain aspect of mealtime, operators can use that knowledge to better support them, Cyplik noted.

For example, if a resident is having trouble eating with a certain utensil, “that might be a cue to look at adaptive equipment,” he said.

While it’s not always the preferred option, memory care residents sometimes need softer or pureed food in order to eat. But even there, both operators have given considerable thought to the way those foods are shaped, cooked and plated in order to make the experience enjoyable.

“The team should be tasting it, they should be making sure that the texture is there, that the taste is there, that it tastes the same as the chicken parmesan that’s going out to a different care level,” Cyplik said.

Nutrition and nourishment

Keeping memory care residents well-fed can be a challenge. Ensuring they are getting proper nutrition as they eat can be even harder.

At one of Senior Lifestyle’s two Cincinnati-based communities, all pre-packaged food is required to have nutrition facts and ingredients displayed clearly on the packaging, according to Cyplik. This is a trend, not just in senior living, but in present-day life: people want to have better control over their diet. And that starts with information.

Senior Lifestyle uses hydroponic gardens in some of its communities as a way to both grow fresh, healthy ingredients and engage residents in the food selection process.

“It really kind of gives them purpose throughout the day,” said Cyplik.

For residents working with hydroponic gardens, the effect is all at once fulfilling, enjoyable and therapeutic.

The operator also makes foods that are both enticing and nutritious, such as by making smoothies with blueberries, which are often thought to be helpful for cognitive function; or baking scones with rosemary.

Sinceri Senior Living memory care residents get snacks after breakfast, between lunch and dinner and after dinner. The operator makes fresh fruit the centerpiece of the morning snack, and the other food breaks are aimed

at giving residents the nutrients they need throughout the day.

Sinceri also recently implemented a program called Dash to Dine to improve movement among its residents.

“Instead of being in one room where we might have done an activity for an hour or so, and then serve a snack right in that same room … we get our residents up, walk into the dining room, enjoy that snack — get them moving,” said Sadler.

Sadler knows that when residents are up and blood is flowing, that means oxygen is getting to their brains, which can only benefit them.. Looking ahead, the operator is looking to cull from its memory care program certain kinds of foods, such as snacks and treats that don’t offer much or any nutritional benefit.

Cookies and crackers, while accessible and easy to eat, have little or no health benefit for residents, especially those living on a controlled diet in a memory care community,, Cyplik said. He also emphasized that while some aspects of dining are on the way out, there are others that may be a big part of the future, like grab-and-go options. They can also provide a new sensory experience for residents.

“When you think about bistros, and you think about the idea of cooking in the main lobby of a building, that leads to different types of environmental changes,” he said.

Senior Lifestyle’s Embrace program is based on enabling residents to take part in the culinary experience, and that is a trend across the memory care product type . This kind of process allows for regular, positive interactions between residents and staff, something Sinceri believes in, too.

“Times are changing,” Sadler said. “There’s constant growth. We can’t always do the same thing.”

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