How To Help Loved Ones With Dementia Get Better Nutrition!

Senior eating breakfast with caregiverMore and more of us are becoming caregivers for our parents. And it seems dementia becomes more common. One of the problems with this disease is that it can disrupt the basic needs—an appetite for food and liquids! As the disease progresses, basic skills are lost. It can become the refusal to eat a favorite meal, or as it goes on, the purpose of a fork and spoon. What doesn't change, is the need for nutrients and it will become your job to make sure those needs are met.

Here are some tips of what works and what doesn't work!

Some tips to help your loved ones with dementia get better nutrition! Click To Tweet

What Doesn't Work

Insisting that your loved one eat doesn't work. The nagging, pleading, and frustration will not help with cooperation. The “Just try a bite, you'll like it,” doesn't work and can cause the brakes to be put on even harder. And just leaving the food in front of them after it's become clear that they are not interested in eating it won't work either.

So, What Does Work?

I know, there is a lot of things that don't seem to work, but you can do things during the meal prep, presentation, serving, and at the table that will help!

While Preparing The Meal

  • Have the person you're caring for be in the kitchen with you while preparing the meal.
  • Bump up the nutrition by using powdered protein, healthy fats, and pureed vegetables. This can be added to soft foods and whole wheat baked goods. Also, use nut flours for breading, baking and thickening.
  • Elimanate empty calories such as sugar and processed foods
  • Add some preferred spices and flovors
  • Cut the chewy food into small pieces
  • Limit salt
  • Make sure you're preparing nutrient dense foods
  • Switch to finger foods if you see your loved one is having problems with a fork, knife or spoon

When Serving

  • Put the nutritious food first
  • Try smaller portions on a salad plate
  • If using a dinner plate, serve one or two foods at a time so you don't overwhelm
  • Set the plate so that favorite foods are furthest from the hand used to eat
  • Make sure the food temperature is not too hot; sometimes it can be hard to tell extreme heat or cold
  • Understand that tastes can change suddenly for people with dementia. A favorite food may be rejected or a previously disliked food may become acceptable
  • Strong smells can be distracting
  • Flatter the food. Use short tempting phases like “This fish is delicious!”

At The Table

  • Make eye contact with a smile; and then wait for the person to return. And repeat this throughout the meal and day
  • Allow lots of time to eat
  • Don't fret over food that has fallen, just brush it off
  • Remind the person you care for to chew thoroughly and swallow carefully. Monitor for choking
  • If the person you're caring for won't eat, put the food in the fridge and try later

Some Overall Hints

  • Eat in a quiet, simple area. Busy, ornate rooms can be distracting
  • Sit at a small table opposite your loved one.
  • LImit talking, no electronics or other preventable noise
  • Use a red plate. Boston University researchers found people with Alzheimer's ate 25% more food when it was served on a red plate versus a white plate
  • Remove centerpieces, canles, salt shakers, and serving dishes
  • Be flexible about meal times. Eating at 10 PM is better than not eating

And After Eating

Keep a food diary, recording everything your loved one ate. Measure the food when you put it on the plate and guess how much is left. This will let you make sure the daily intake is enough and makes it easier to spot a pattern or change and give you a record to share with the doctor.

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