Quick Tips: Mealtime with Dementia (Mini-Series Part 1)


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Today’s Quick Tips episode is a part of our new Nutritional Health for Seniors mini-series. First, we want to thank all of our viewers and listeners for joining us for this mini-series, and please, let us know what you want our next series to be. For today’s episode, we’ve gathered some tips, tools, and resources that we think can help you and your loved one with dementia ensure that they are able to get the nutrition they need. Now let’s move on to the rest of the show.

Memory loss and the decline of cognitive abilities are often brought to mind when thinking about dementia and how it affects our loved one, but what about the other issues that dementia brings? Mealtimes often present an all-too-common issue that families face with loved ones who have dementia. Making sure your loved one is eating and getting the proper nutrition that they need is a daunting, but extremely important task that family caregivers face daily.

According to the Terra Vista Foundation, many individuals with dementia often experience unplanned weight loss due to things like decreased levels of activity, depression, side effects of medications, and lack of muscle coordination which leads to problems with chewing and swallowing.

When considering ways to help your loved one make sure they are getting the nutrients they need, always talk to their doctor first. Make sure you tell them any side effects of the medications your loved one is on are causing, such as trouble swallowing, so that they can make any adjustments to dosage or changes of medication as soon as possible. Your doctor also might have suggestions on how to help your loved one eat.

It’s important to make sure your loved one is drinking enough water throughout the day. If they are having trouble remembering to drink when they are thirsty, try using a measured water bottle with fun designs to help them drink more throughout the day. Popsicles are another great way to keep your loved one hydrated and you can make them yourself. Popsicles are especially great if swallowing hurts their throat. The ice can help soothe the inside, possibly making eating easier.

Engaging the senses is another way that entices dementia patients to eat or eat more. Using aromatic herbs and spices and vibrant colors can engage their vision and sense of smell. This is a good technique to use, as long as your loved one isn’t feeling nauseous. Fragrant foods may make them feel worse, so make sure you try to gauge how they are feeling before preparing any foods.

Your loved one with dementia may easily become overwhelmed and mealtimes are no different. Using smaller portions on a larger plate can help them focus more on eating and less on the amounts in front of them. Finger foods may also help them eat more, especially as their motor skills worsen. Silverware can take more focus to use and if they are having trouble getting the food to their mouth, they may get angry and refuse to eat. Finger foods, like cut up sandwiches and fresh fruit, can be easier for them to eat themselves, without needing help from you.

Limiting distractions during mealtime can also increase the likelihood that your loved one finishes, or even eats, their meal. Try turning off the television or music and refrain from having conversations during mealtime if your loved one usually gets distracted by these things. The less distractions around, the more your loved one is able to focus on the task at hand.

Exercising may also help increase your loved one’s appetite. Going for a walk with your loved one may help them begin to feel hungry and thirsty and they may decide it is time to eat on their own. Studies have also shown that exercising may help slow the cognitive decline in dementia patients.

If your loved one is able to eat in small quantities, but isn’t getting all the nutrients they need, focus on adding more to what they are able to eat. For example, if your loved one can eat a half a cup of fruit at once, try adding some yogurt or cheeses to add more fat to their diet.

When trying to make sure your loved one is gaining or maintaining weight, ensuring they are eating foods high in calories and proteins is essential. Cooking with butter or high fat oils is a great way to sneak in more calories that won’t affect the taste of their foods. Whole milk and fruit juice is also a good way to get them to drink calories.

Protein shakes like Ensure can also be helpful. You can also put ensure in the freezer for a few hours for a frozen snack they can eat with a spoon. We’ve heard from quite a few families and caregivers that Chocolate Ensure is best this way.

The Crisis Prevention Center says to just remember that each person is different, and care must be individualized depending on specific needs and through observation. What works for someone else may not work for your loved one, and that’s okay. If you are interested in learning more about Dementia, check out our Dementia and Alzheimer’s playlist on YouTube.

Similarly, if your loved one frequently forgets that they just ate and wants to eat again, try giving them multiple small meals. You can start with something like chicken, and then move on to rice, and then to asparagus. If your loved one is having problems with overeating due to memory loss, this technique can be especially helpful. You can give them smaller portions of the meal and spread it out over time.

The most important tip we can give you today is to observe. Let them eat as much as they can on their own so that they may hold on to some sense of independence. Observing also allows you to notice any patterns your loved one may have with eating. You may find that they have a favorite food or herb this way, or you may notice that they eat more when they use a spoon versus a fork.

We hope this episode has given you some helpful tips and tricks for dealing with mealtimes with dementia. We know that dementia is hard on everyone, not just your loved one, and we are here to help. If you would like more information on mealtimes and nutritional health for seniors, check out our Nutritional and Dietary Support for Seniors playlist on YouTube.

For more information and resources on nutritional health for your loved one with dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website at ALZ.org. They have many resources that you may find useful. You can also find a link to their website in the show notes for today’s episode.

We want to say thank you for joining us here at All Home Care Matters, All Home Care Matters is here for you and to help families as they navigate long-term care issues. Please visit us at allhomecarematters.com there is a private secure fillable form there where you can give us feedback, show ideas, or if you have questions. Every form is read and responded to. If you know someone is who could benefit from this episode and please make sure to share it with them.

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