Regular nutritious meals may become a challenge for people with dementia. They may become overwhelmed with too many food choices, forget to eat, think they have already eaten, or have difficulty with utensils.
Make mealtimes easier
- Limit distractions. Serve meals in quiet surroundings, away from the television and other distractions.
- Keep the table setting simple. Use only the utensils needed for the meal. Use white plates or bowls with a place mat in a contrasting color to help the person distinguish the plate from the table. Avoid placing items on the table that might distract or confuse the person.
- Distinguish food from the plate or bowl. Changes in your loved one’s visual and spatial abilities may make it difficult to distinguish food from the plate. Avoid patterned dishes, tablecloths and place mats that might confuse the person.
- Check the food temperature. The person might not be able to tell if a food or beverage is too hot to eat or drink.
- Serve only one or two foods at a time. If many foods are served at once, the person may be unable to decide among the items on his or her plate. For example, serve mashed potatoes followed by meat.
- Be flexible to food preferences. Keep in mind long-standing personal preferences when preparing food, but be aware that a person with dementia may suddenly develop new food preferences or reject foods that were liked in the past.
- Give the person plenty of time to eat. Remind him or her to chew and swallow carefully. Be patient: it may take an hour or longer to finish eating.
- Eat together. Make meals an enjoyable social event so that your loved one looks forward to the experience.
- It’s possible that the person will not remember when or if he or she ate. If the person continues to ask about eating breakfast, consider serving several breakfasts — juice, followed by toast, followed by cereal.
- Make the most of the person’s abilities. Allow the person to eat from a bowl instead of a plate or use plates with rims or protective edges. Use spoons with large handles instead of forks, or even let the person use his or her hands if it’s easier.
- Serve finger foods, foods that are easy to pick up and eat.
- Adapt place settings. Use spoons with large handles instead of forks. Serve food in large bowls instead of plates or use plates with rims or protective edges. Use cups and mugs with lids to prevent spilling. Fill glasses only half full, and use bendable straws. Set bowls and plates on a non-skid surface such as a cloth or towel.
- Use a “watch me” technique. For example, hold a spoon, and show the person how to eat a bowl of cereal.
- Don’t worry about neatness. Let the person feed himself of herself as much as possible. Consider getting plates with suction cups and no-spill glasses.
Minimize eating and nutrition problems
- Prepare easy-to-eat foods. Grind foods or cut them into bite-sized pieces or serve soft foods, such as applesauce, cottage cheese, or scrambled eggs.
- Be alert for signs of choking. Guard against choking by avoiding foods that are difficult to chew thoroughly, like raw carrots. Encourage the person to sit up straight with his or her head slightly forward. If the person’s head tilts backward, move it to a forward position. Learn the Heimlich maneuver in case the person chokes. At the end of the meal, check the person’s mouth to make sure food has been swallowed.
- Use vitamin supplements on the recommendation of a physician.
- Address a decreased appetite. If the person has a decreased appetite, try preparing some of the person’s favorite foods; increase the person’s physical activity; or plan for several small meals rather than three large meals.
The Alzheimer’s Association has published very useful and helpful tips about being a better caregiver. These resources are of great benefit to our caregivers.
We would like to acknowledge the Alzheimer’s Association for its in-depth studies to help the caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.