7 Tips to Help a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease Eat Enough

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for people in their Golden Years. The reality is that maintaining a proper diet can prove challenging for older individuals for a host of reasons. For example, when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that individual can face issues getting proper nutrition.

“Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) can impair the olfactory sensation up to two years before it’s detected,” Juliet Holt Klinger, a gerontologist and expert on dementia explains. “The ability to smell plays an important role in the desire to eat and the perception of taste, so this impairment can diminish appetite even before other dementia symptoms become evident.”

There are seven tips to consider to assist a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease in eating enough nutritious food regularly:

  • Select foods that are dementia-friendly
  • Honor former tastes and preferences
  • Support recognition
  • Adjust meals to restlessness
  • Keep your loved one active
  • Check for dental problems
  • Pay attention to hydration

Select Foods That Are Dementia-Friendly

If you are like most people, new to caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the idea of “dementia-friendly food” certainly may seem foreign to you. That is understandable. Dementia-friendly foods are easier for a person to eat and for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease to manage. If a food item is more complicated to consume, a person with Alzheimer’s can become frustrated and give up on eating a meal.

Sharing examples of dementia-friendly food items is helpful to aid you in understanding what is meant by this term. Food that is not dementia-friendly is something that requires multiple steps to eat. For example, food items containing bones, tails, or skins are not at all dementia-friendly. A person needs to take more than one step before the item is ready to consume.

The fact is that foods like these just described can be frustrating for a person with Alzheimer’s disease to eat correctly. Moreover, dementia can result in a person not taking the step of deboning or removing tails. This presents a safety risk to such an individual. You can deal with deboning and other issues to make food items, such as Alzheimer-friendly selections.

Another example is long pasta like spaghetti. This is another example of a food item that can prove frustrating for a person with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia to eat. You can substitute shorter pasta like ziti or bow for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

Honor Former Tastes and Preferences

As was noted earlier in this article, a person with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can begin to lose their sense of taste and smell. This can make eating less enjoyable.

Sometimes, you can work around this devolution in taste and smell by serving food items that your loved one has a history of enjoying. Before Alzheimer’s has progressed to the latter stages, you can make headway explaining to your family member or friend that you are serving a particular dish or meal that this person previously enjoyed.

Even when the time arrives when your loved one can no longer remember favored foods, you can still respect that person’s sensibilities by serving items they once enjoyed. Doing so serves to continue to humanize and respect a loved one in a later stage of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Support Recognition

As dementia progresses, including Alzheimer’s disease, a loved one will begin to have issues using utensils. At least initially, when this begins to occur, you can assist them in recognizing different items of silverware and other utensils by providing some support and guidance. For example, you can consider gently placing your hand over your loved one’s and guiding the fork or spoon from the table to the plate and the mouth. Experts in the field of Alzheimer’s disease make a note:

You can often ignite the starter button and tap into overlearned physical movement memory by tapping the hand where you want them to take action.” Holt Klinger explains. “It’s also important to support the person’s ability to visualize the food on the plate. Many persons with advanced dementia have issues with depth perception, and these can interfere with their ability to see the food or the plate on the table. You can help support these perceptual changes by creating a contrast between the plate and the table surface with a dark-colored cloth or placemat and using colorful garnishes like parsley on low-color foods.

Adjust Meals to Restlessness

The restlessness associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in several different ways can negatively impact an individual’s ability to eat a meal. For example, if there is too much noise or other types of stimulation around the meal table, a person with Alzheimer’s may have problems focusing on eating. That individual may become restless and unable to eat much of the meal.

Another example of restlessness involves what is known as sundowner’s syndrome. While we are not going to present a detailed discussion of sundowning, it is a condition that occurs in some people with dementia. In simple terms, sundowner’s syndrome is a set of symptoms that certain people with dementia experience – including restlessness – that can occur as evening approaches.

There are ways in which restlessness impacting dining can be avoided. For example, if restlessness appears to be associated with noise and other stimulation in a dining room in a memory care center or assisted living community, the resident might be provided meals in his or her living quarters.

For those individuals with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia that can experience sundowning-related restlessness, the evening mealtime can be adjusted. The typical recommendation is for a person with sundowner’s syndrome to eat earlier and before the evening is approaching.

Keep Your Loved One Active

Appetite is important. No one feels like eating when they have no appetite.

An important tactic you can employ to assist a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease in maintaining a healthy and regular diet is to keep that person active during the day. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s disease can enjoy regular walks. These can even be in the form of several shorter strolls throughout the day if an individual does not easily tolerate a longer walk with Alzheimer’s.

Walks needs not even be outside. If a person with Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia lives in a memory center or assisted living community, strolls can be taken throughout the day within the facility itself.

Check for Dental Problems

Sometimes, a person with Alzheimer’s may be distressed at mealtime or unable to eat a full meal. If that is the case, in addition to the other tactics and tips referenced in this article, you will also want to determine if your loved one may have some dental issue. Your loved one might have some tooth or gum issue. Your loved one may have improperly fitting dentures. In more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, a person may be unable to precisely explain what is happening in this regard.

The state of a person’s teeth and mouth underscores the need for regular dental checkups. In addition, regular dental cleanings are important as well.

Pay Attention to Hydration

Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia can impact an individual’s ability to stay appropriately hydrated. A person in such a position may not remember to drink water and other suitable beverages during any given day. For this reason, the caregiver of a person with Alzheimer’s disease needs to offer that individual water and other suitable beverages throughout the day to maintain hydration.

In summary, by utilizing the tips and tactics outlined in this article, you take important steps to ensure that your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease maintains a suitable, healthy diet. You also keep the door open so that your family member or friend can enjoy eating for a longer period.