When Eating Is a Problem

Are you caring for a baby boomer or older adult who suffers from dementia?  If so, you know how challenging mealtimes can be, especially if your goal is a nutritious meal.  I saw some of these difficulties last year when I provided exercise classes at a local memory care facility.

People living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, often lose interest in eating. There are a number of reasons for poor appetite.  It may be a decrease in the sense of taste and smell; or memory problems may lead people to think they’ve already eaten.  Those living with AD may no longer recognize the foods on their plate.  Poor fitting dentures, difficulty using utensils, or medications can all affect the ability and desire to eat.  And a lack of exercise can depress appetite.

People with dementia lose interest in eating; here are ways to help them.

Here are 5 practical suggestions to help someone with dementia eat more.

1)  Help distinguish food from the plate.  It seems people with AD may not be able to easily distinguish food from the plate or the plate from the table. So try changing out the color of the plate (research shows that red and yellow plates have promising results for increased food consumption) and avoiding patterned dishes, tablecloths, and place mats.

2)  Limit distractions.   People with AD are easily distracted and benefit from a quiet surroundings.  Turn off the TV or cell phone, and stop talking.

3)  Make eating easy. The physical act of eating will become more difficult as the disease progresses.  Try offering finger foods such as fruit or sandwiches cut into small triangles.  Specially-designed utensils can be beneficial.  Serve only one or two foods at a time to keep meals from becoming overwhelming.

4)  Throw away the clock.  It may take an hour or longer for your loved one with AD to finish a meal, so give her plenty of time.  And don’t get upset if your best efforts fail; be patient and try again.

5)  Try several small meals throughout the day.  Three big meals may not be feasible, so offer 5 or 6 smaller ones.  Keep track of which eating times are best for your loved one.  And remember that food preferences may change—again, be patient and flexible.

And for other ways to help older family or friends be successful at healthy eating, give me a call.


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