For those living with a cognitive disease like dementia, it can be difficult to maintain a diet that gives them the nutrients they need to stay healthy. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the three most common factors that lead to eating problems and the lack of a nutritious diet are poor appetite, loss of daily living skills and difficulties with chewing and swallowing. Learn how to address these issues to help your loved one get the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Improving Poor Appetite
- Encourage exercise – Your loved one’s appetite might decrease if they lack enough physical activity to burn off calories.
- Boost the flavor – Dementia can affect the senses of taste and smell, making food taste unpleasant or bland. 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.
- 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, making it painful to chew. Visit the dentist regularly and ensure their dentures fit properly.
Adjusting for a Loss of 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.
- 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.
- Use 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 food’s 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.
Modifying Food Consistency
- 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.
- 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 close by – 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.
If you and your loved one can identify which symptoms are making eating less desirable, addressing those symptoms and adapting the menu and environment may be all it takes to help them maintain a nutritious diet.
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