February 9, 2017

Mealtime and dementia

One of the effects of dementia is the change in the way foods taste and smell. Someone with with Alzheimer’s or another memory disorder may be unable to recognize foods or know if he or she is hungry or full. The seemingly simple mechanics of fork and spoon or chewing and swallowing can often become too complicated.

Make the environment supportive. Confusion dulls the appetite, so try to keep things unhurried and streamlined.

  • Eat with your relative. This sets the tone that it is time to eat.
  • Simplify the setting. A cluttered table might be confusing. Your relative may be unable to distinguish between a decoration and a food.
  • Reduce unnecessary noise. Turn off the television and radio. Hold off on emotional or loud conversations.
  • Use contrasting colors. Changes in visual-spatial perception are common with dementia. Steer away from mashed potatoes on a white plate on a white tablecloth!

Keep the menu simple.

  • Plan for small, frequent meals. It’s difficult for people with dementia to sit for a long period of time.
  • Serve just one food at a time. Pick out the most nutritious course and put it on a small plate. If your relative leaves the table, at least they have eaten the most important part of the meal.
  • Check the temperature of the food before serving. Your relative may no longer be able to tell what is too hot.
  • Stay flexible. What your relative ate eagerly yesterday may not be appealing today. Don’t take it personally! Having sensitivity to smells and textures can make for picky eating. Offer them an alternative. Or wait a half-hour and try again.
  • Support self-feeding. Before serving cut foods to bite size pieces. Provide finger food when possible. (Remember to wash your relative’s hands carefully before and after!)

If your relative seems consistently no interested in eating, consult with the doctor. Some medications can affect appetite. And dental issues can make chewing painful.

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