How to Ensure People With Dementia Eat Enough
The issue of poor nutrition often becomes worse when someone has developed dementia and knowing how to ensure people with dementia eat enough can prove difficult. This is because normal tasks like eating can become overwhelming, and they may experience a loss of appetite, forget to eat, have difficulty using utensils, or have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Without proper nutrition, degeneration can worsen, increasing symptoms and leading to weight loss.
A loss of appetite can come from the person not recognizing foods, medication effects, decreased sense of taste and smell, pain due to poor fitting dentures, being overwhelmed by distractions, and a lack of physical activity.
Tips for How to Ensure People With Dementia Eat Enough:
- Keep the atmosphere simple and free from distractions – Clutter and unnecessary objects can lead to a feeling of overwhelm for people with dementia. Remove centerpieces and additional place settings at tables, and keep the environment free of clutter. Serve meals in a peaceful setting that is free from distractions like television and loud noises.
- Limit the amount of foods you serve at a time – Again, people with dementia can become overwhelmed easily. Serve one or two foods at a time to reduce this issue.
- Allow plenty of time for eating – It can often take an hour or more for dementia patients to complete a meal. Be patient and allow them the time they need to properly chew and eat an adequate amount.
- Serve foods that are easy to chew and swallow – This is mostly necessary for people who are in the later stages of dementia. Try cutting foods into small pieces, grinding grains or serving pureed foods, and avoid foods that are difficult to chew.
- Create contrast – Since visual and spatial abilities are often limited for people with dementia, they often have trouble distinguishing plates from the table and food from plates. Make it easier on them by providing contrast between these items. Solid colors are best – avoid patterns.
- Make it interesting – Prepare plates of food that are full of color and visual interest. This will add interest to promote appetite.
- Adapt utensils and dishes to suit their needs – Switching to a bowl or large-handled spoons can often make a difference. Serving more finger foods can also make it easier for people with dementia to eat.
- Let them feed themselves – It might get messy, but that’s okay. Encourage them to feed themselves, and instead of feeding them, you might need to try showing them how to eat by having them watch you. As the disease progresses, feeding them might become necessary, however.
- Be flexible – It is common for people with dementia to suddenly dislike a food they always loved, or visa versa. Be open and flexible with them. At the same time, they may not remember when they last ate and may continuously ask for food. Consider providing smaller meals, more frequently if this happens a lot.
- Stay on top of food temperatures – A reduction in senses can make it difficult for a person with dementia to tell if a food or drink is too hot. Be sure to check it before giving it to them.
- Socialize with them at mealtime – Make mealtimes a fun time to socialize with them. If you eat with them, you will probably notice they eat better.
- Avoid choking – Make sure they sit up straight and keep their head forward, and ensure that all food in their mouth has been swallowed when they are done eating.
- Make a chart to track meals – Since people with dementia can forget when they have eaten and might not even realize they are full, it can be important to track when they eat.
- Maintain consistency – When a routine is in place, it can help to reduce the feelings of overwhelm that can come with dementia. Hold meal times at the same time each day, let them sit in the same seat and eat in the same room, and create traditions like saying a prayer before mealtime or talking about a certain topic of interest during the meal.
- Make it easier on yourself – In order to keep up with the care of a person with dementia, try cooking large amounts of food and then freezing single portions.
When it comes to knowing how to ensure people with dementia eat enough, getting help can be important:
1) Set up a consultation with a nutritionist to determine what areas need to be worked on for the individual.
2) Set up an appointment with their dentist to ensure their dentures fit properly to rule that out as a cause of poor appetite.
3) If the individual is having difficulty swallowing and/or is having constipation, set up an appointment with their physician for assistance.
Sometimes the difficult part of caring for a loved one is not just knowing how to ensure people with dementia eat enough, but also knowing what nutrients they need most. Learn more here: The Most Important Nutrients for Dementia.
About Dementia/Alzheimer’s disease
Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s
Nutrition for Dementia
Dr. Heather Keller, Nutrition for Dementia
Dementia and Nutrition
Poor Nutrition Can Make the Symptoms of Dementia Worse