Food For Thought

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias do not need a special diet. As with anyone, eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is important for overall health. However, regular, nutritious meals may become a challenge for people with dementia–as cognitive function declines, they may become overwhelmed with too many food choices, forget to eat, or have difficulty with utensils.

As the disease progresses, loss of appetite and weight loss may become concerns. In such cases, the doctor may suggest supplements between meals to add calories. Staying hydrated may be a problem as well. Encourage fluids by offering small cups of water or other liquids throughout the day or foods with high water content, such as fruit, soups, milkshakes, and smoothies.

Friendship Center Montecito’s Program Manager, Kathryn Cherkas, shares her tips for making mealtimes easier:

–First of all, know that a reduced appetite is normal in people with dementia. This could be due to medication, fatigue or a lack of physical activity. Therefore, it is important to stick to a regular mealtime schedule, if possible. That being said, if your loved one is reluctant to eating, there could be an issue of oral pain caused by dentures or difficulties swallowing. Try offering him or her pureed or softened food instead.

–Have your loved one help with meal prep. This could be washing fruits and vegetables, opening bags, or setting the table, for example. Know that things won’t always be done ‘perfectly’ and that is OK! Giving your loved one the opportunity to help during mealtimes provides him or her with a sense of purpose and independence.

–Make mealtime a pleasant experience and reduce background distractions. Sometimes playing soothing music during mealtimes can create a calm atmosphere to promote eating. Research suggests that people eat better when they are in the company of others.

–Take every opportunity to have your loved one eat! Does your loved one with dementia often get up throughout the night? Use whatever time they are most active to encourage eating, even if that means having prepared late-night snacks or meals readily available for him or her.

–Use appropriate dishware for your loved one’s needs: if he or she is only able to use one hand, try serving all meals out of a bowl or a plate with a lip to scoop the food, for example. Also, try not to overload plates with too much food. This can be stressful and cause your loved one to feel pressure to eat all of the food. Using smaller, brighter colored plates can help with food identification to streamline eating.

Click below for a comprehensive article on the subject from Alzheimer’s Association: