Preparing meals for a loved one with dementia can be a daily challenge. They may be unable to express why they’re refusing to eat favorite meals or remember the purpose of a fork. But, two things remain constant – – their need for nutrients and your need to make sure that need is met. To improve the experience for both of you, here are twelve tips to help your loved one with dementia get the nutrition they need (courtesy of Family Caregiver Alliance).
Avoid food fights
Make mealtime as pleasant as possible. Encourage someone to eat, but don’t demand, cajole, or threaten
Choice of two things
If giving choices, give only two things to choose between. Even if a choice is made, the person may not want it when it is presented. Don’t take it personally. If you know their favorite foods, have them available for backup. Favorite foods might change.
Limited quantity sweets
People often crave sweet things, so make them available in limited quantities unless medically not recommended, e.g., diabetes. Fruit can often fulfill this need. We all lose taste buds as we age, so food doesn’t taste the same. For some people, bland food is fine, and for others, we need to spice it up.
Smaller and Frequent meals
People will often not eat a large meal or the traditional three meals a day. Try offering smaller, more frequent meals. Or offer nutritional supplements between meals. Always have water or other liquids available and offer them often so the person doesn’t get dehydrated.
Use small plates, as large ones can be overwhelming. Use color contrast of dishes and food for the person to distinguish the food more easily. Turn the plate if the person has eaten all the food on one side. Chop food into small pieces to make it easier to chew. For some people, serving one food at a time might be less overwhelming.
If coordination and independence are an issue, offer finger foods—sandwiches, cut-up fruits and vegetables, cheese cubes, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, etc.
Straw for liquids
If a person has trouble swallowing, use a straw when offering liquids. Or use a thickening agent and pureed foods rather than thin liquids. Get a referral to a speech therapist to assess the problem, and learn ways to cue someone to swallow. Learn the Heimlich maneuver.
If someone is reluctant to eat, they may have a chewing problem ranging from dentures that don’t fit correctly to oral pain or other dental issues. Try softer foods, such as applesauce, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, and puddings.
Atmosphere of friendliness
Sit with the person, if possible, while eating to create an atmosphere of friendliness. People often eat very slowly, and so sitting with the care receiver during the entire meal time might be burdensome. However, if you sit at the beginning of the meal, it will be a way to model eating for the person.
One food item at a time
If your loved one needs to be fed, offer one food item at a time. Make sure they have swallowed before offering the next bite. Demonstrate and cue eating behavior.
Serve food at the right temperature to eat right now. Waiting for food to cool might be a deterrent to eating or a burn hazard.
People with memory problems may not remember to eat or may ask again for a meal, having forgotten they already ate. Keep healthy snacks available, rather than telling them that they just ate.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care by Home Instead
Home Instead of Southwest Florida is here to provide compassionate, high-quality memory care right in your loved one’s home.
Our Alzheimer’s and dementia CAREGivers participate in our unique and critically acclaimed training program called CARE: Changing Aging through Research and Education. As pioneers in this field, Home Instead Senior Care developed the highest quality dementia caregiver training program available. As a result, we have helped change how people live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Contact us today to learn more about our Alzheimer’s and dementia care in Southwest Florida. We would be honored to serve your family.