As dementia progresses, declining cognitive abilities make it difficult for a person to perform everyday tasks, such as eating. Especially in the later stages of the disease, those with memory loss can have trouble using utensils, chewing, swallowing and communicating their preferences or problems. Not only do these issues make for a difficult time at the dinner table, but eating problems can limit a person’s nutritional intake and overall health.
Nancy Clanton, Community Relations Director at Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay in Venice, FL, explains the importance of a caregiver’s role in dining situations: “Family caregivers can take several steps to make eating easier for their loved one with dementia. Learning the best ways to adapt your table settings and modify meals helps significantly to ensure your loved one can eat comfortably and get enough nutrients to stay well.”
To help your loved one get the most out of mealtimes, you should keep in mind any changes in appetite, declining skills and trouble with chewing or swallowing.
Preparing Meals with Memory Loss in Mind
Making eating an enjoyable experience for your loved one will require plenty of preparation, observation and patience. The Alzheimer’s Association’s article, “Food, Eating and Alzheimer’s,” describes several reasons why your loved one may have trouble eating and lists ways to minimize their obstacles and increase their appetite, including:
- Boost flavor with spices – Your loved one’s sensory changes may make food taste or smell differently or not at all. Increasing flavor can make eating more enjoyable.
- Be aware of changing food preferences – As your loved one’s memory loss progresses, understand that they might reject foods they used to enjoy or like eating different foods than they did in the past.
- Encourage exercise – Your loved one’s appetite might decrease if they lack enough physical activity to burn calories. Find simple ways to exercise, such as walking or gardening.
- Monitor medication changes – New medications or dosages could affect your loved one’s appetite. Talk with their doctor if you notice a change.
- Pay attention to dental care – Your loved one may not be able to communicate if their dentures fit poorly or if they have a toothache that makes it painful to chew. Visit the dentist regularly and ensure dentures fit properly.
How to Modify the Table for Decreasing Skills
- Serve small, frequent meals – Your loved one might not remember eating throughout the day. To avoid confusion or frustration, serve smaller meals, one food at a time (e.g., toast, then coffee, then some fruit and oatmeal).
- Adapt to their abilities – Make eating easier by switching out dishes and utensils. For example, serve food in a bowl rather than on a plate, or give them a large spoon instead of a fork.
- Utilize contrast – Declining visual and spatial abilities might make it hard to distinguish food from the plate and cause frustration. Use plain white dishes and avoid patterned table linens.
- Check the temperature – Your loved one may not be able to tell if their food is too hot or too cold. Always check the temperature before they eat to avoid discomfort or burns.
Making Food Easier to Chew and Swallow
- Prepare meals with swallowing in mind – Mince, dice or chop foods to make them easier to swallow. If your loved one has severe difficulties or dysphagia, it might be necessary to purée foods or serve only soft options (applesauce, mashed potatoes, yogurt, etc.).
- Serve finger foods – Serve bite-sized options that are easy to pick up and eat. Orange slices, chicken nuggets and steamed broccoli are good choices.
- Keep beverages nearby – Provide a drink after each bite to assist with safe swallowing.
- Watch for signs of choking – Encourage your loved one to sit up straight while eating. Afterwards, check their mouth for remaining food. Learn the Heimlich maneuver in case of emergencies.
Everyone with dementia experiences symptoms differently. Try different options and be creative to find the methods that work best for your loved one’s nutritional health, safety and enjoyment.
Signature Dining for Memory Care
At Tuscan Gardens, those receiving memory care services experience the Signature Dining experience that promotes nutrition and comfort. “Meals in our Tuscan Kitchen are truly a multi-sensory experience,” says Clanton. “The room is spacious and open, so residents can watch our chef and his team prepare each meal. The smells of food cooking are delightful, and they help our memory care residents feel at home.
“We know that for many of our residents, the kitchen was the heart of their home, where they shared family dinners, fed their children, cooked and baked. We try to resemble that connection and familiarity in our Tuscan Kitchen, encouraging participation in cooking classes or fun get-togethers with friends and family.
“If any of our residents ever require assistance with eating, our care staff is always there to help. We also offer an array of delicious meal choices in a variety of textures and consistency for those who have trouble chewing and swallowing. Even in the later stages of dementia, it’s our goal to make every meal an enjoyable experience.”
The Art of Living
At Tuscan Gardens® of Venetia Bay, we’ve mastered the art of living. We’ve perfected the balance of personalized support and an uplifting lifestyle, helping our residents experience independence, joy and meaning every day.
Offering supportive independent living, assisted living and memory care services for families in Venice, Florida, Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay was founded with one simple, yet profound goal – to create a community worthy of our parents. In all we do, we are guided by the principles of family, culture and engagement, working to represent the remarkable way of life our families deserve.
Luxury, intimacy, opportunity, passion and beauty combine to create what the Italians call sprezzatura – a culture of effortless elegance. The essence of our community is made up not only of mere aesthetics, but an artfully designed lifestyle to bring out the best of what each day has to offer. From dedicated care that respects residents’ individuality and dignity to a lifestyle that nurtures their love of life, Tuscan Gardens was built to be more than just a residence, but a place to call home.